The National Weather Service’s San Antonio office has taken over monitoring and warnings issuance for Hurricane Irma after the Key West team, who are weathering the storm in a bunker rated for 220 mph winds, lost communications on Sunday afternoon.
Irma made landfall in the Keys on Sunday morning; the eye of the storm passed over Cudjoe Key at 9:10 a.m. and winds reached maximum speeds of 130 mph. The islands are expected to get up to 20 inches of rain, and officials are warning that storm surges could reach up to 10 feet.
Despite mandatory evacuation orders, some residents elected to stay behind, including many members of Key West’s National Weather Service team. William South, a meteorologist for the NWS, wrote in the Washington Post last week that he and his colleagues chose to stay behind in order to monitor the storm, issue warnings and “save lives”:
My colleagues and I made the decision to stay behind and sent our families out of harm’s way. My wife and cat departed on Wednesday for Orlando. We at the Key West National Weather Service office are staying to face the storm and assist in our primary mission, which is protecting the lives and property of the American people.
Indeed, South and his team had been actively tweeting updates from their storm bunker, designed to withstand winds of up to 220 mph, up until they lost communication around 3 p.m. local time.
Monroe County, home to most of the islands in the Keys, is officially “closed,” according to a tweet this morning that warned evacuees not to return to the Keys “until further notice.”
South and his team remain in the storm bunker.