Hurricane Irma is still a couple days away from reaching the U.S. coast. Currently a Category 5 packing 175 mph winds, forecasters fairly confident it will be a 5 or no lower than a Category 4 by the time it reaches the U.S. coast. Although this far out no one can tell for certain where Irma will make landfall, many models are predicting the Florida will be straight within its sights. If it does make landfall in Florida, when will this happen?
Experts Disagree on if Irma Could Arrive in Florida by Saturday Evening or Sunday
There’s some disagreement among different models about Irma’s exact track, with some placing Irma at an immediate landfall on Miami and others having Irma skirt the east coast instead.
The most recent advisory from the National Hurricane Center, at 2 p.m., puts Irma’s location at 20.7 N and 70.4 W, moving at the west-northwest at 16 mph. This motion is expected to continue, with some decrease in forward speed.
In general, the latest NHC advisory indicates that hurricane conditions will start being felt in the Florida area on Sunday, with tropical storm winds arriving much earlier.
According to the latest Irma advisory from the NHC (emphasis mine):
…Hurricane conditions are possible within the watch area in Florida by Sunday, with tropical storm conditions possible by late Saturday.”
Areas currently within the hurricane watch include the Jupiter Inlet southward around the Florida peninsula to Bonita Beach, the Florida Keys, Lake Okeechobee, Florida Bay, and parts of Cuba. Hurricane warnings have not yet been extended to areas in Florida.
The NHC states:
There has been no change in the guidance which is still quite clustered and brings the core of Irma very near the southeast Florida coast in about 3 days.”
It’s important to note that even before the eye of the storm hits a location, that area will experience tropical storm and hurricane force winds much earlier. Hurricane-force winds extend up to 60 miles from Irma’s center and tropical storm force winds extend much farther than that.
Far before hurricane force winds will hit, there will be tropical storm force winds to contend with.
The Florida Keys will start feeling some of the effects of Irma on Saturday. The latest NHC advisory expects the lower Florida Keys to get 2 to 5 inches of rain from Irma through Saturday evening, and Southeast Florida through the upper Florida Keys will receive 8 to 12 inches of total rain through Saturday evening from Irma, possibly up to 20 inches in isolated areas.
And yes, Irma will still be a powerful hurricane when it reaches the U.S. coast. The NHC advises:
There are no obvious reasons why Irma will not remain a powerful hurricane for the next 3 days while approaching Florida. Thereafter, an increase in the wind shear could lead to gradual weakening, but Irma is expected to remain a major hurricane until landfall occurs.”
Jonathan Belles, a meteorologist at FSU Weather, posted on Facebook that the outer tropical storm force winds from Irma are expected to arrive in South Florida by late Saturday, Central Florida by late Sunday morning, North Florida by Sunday evening, and Georgia and the Carolinas by Monday:
Confidence is higher today that there will be impacts of a major hurricane somewhere between Florida and North Carolina. You’ll notice in the yellow spaghetti plots that a Florida landfall anywhere on the peninsula, east coast or west coast, is possible. It is also very possible that a landfall in Florida may not happen at all! Nailing down that exact landfall point and ground zero is still not possible, and as we saw with Matthew’s parallel track with Florida last year, it may not be possible even 12 hours later.”
But, he added, storm surges will be a problem even before the center of Irma arrives. Because Miami and Charleston flood on a regular basis, even with monthly tides, flooding is a real concern in those areas and the reason that people evacuate, he said.
As Steve McCauley, a respected meteorologist with WFAA shared on Facebook, whether the storm hits Florida directly or not, it will be an unpleasant time for Florida.