Hurricane Irma officially made landfall on Wednesday as it hit the island of Barbuda. The Category 5 storm is now making its way toward the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
The hurricane is packing up to 185-mph winds and is one of the strongest storms ever recorded in Atlantic history.
President Donald Trump tweeted on Wednesday morning that he and his staff are keeping a close eye on the hurricane, even as the nation reels from the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey in Texas just a few weeks ago.
Several U.S. states have declared a state of emergency ahead of the storm. Here’s what you need to know:
1. Hurricane Irma is heading for the Caribbean Islands and Puerto Rico
The latest forecast, as of 11 a.m. Wednesday Eastern time, shows the hurricane heading for the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
Hurricane Irma Advisory Number 30
NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL AL112017
1100 AM AST Wed Sep 06 2017
…EYE OF POTENTIALLY CATASTROPHIC CATEGORY 5 HURRICANE IRMA
CLOSING IN ON THE VIRGIN ISLANDS…
All warnings have been discontinued for Guadeloupe, Antigua, Barbuda, St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat, according to the National Hurricane Center, as the storm makes its way west.
2. It’s one of the strongest storms ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.
Hurricane Irma is packing maximum winds of 185 miles per hour making it one of the strongest storms ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean. Several storms have hit 185-mph winds, including Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 and Hurricane Wilma in 2005.
In 1980, Hurricane Allen reached winds of 190 miles per hour. That storm hit the Caribbean, parts of Mexico and Texas. It caused $1.24 billion in damages and killed 269 people.
3. It’s still unclear where the storm will hit the continental United States
It’s still too early to tell just where Hurricane Irma is heading, but Florida and South Carolina have already declared a state of emergency.
Here’s the latest forecast from the National Weather Service:
Irma is moving toward the west-northwest near 16 mph (26 km/h), and this general motion is expected to continue for the next couple of days. On the forecast track, the extremely dangerous core of Irma will move over portions
of the Virgin Islands very soon, pass near or just north of Puerto Rico this afternoon or tonight, pass near or just north of the coast of the Dominican Republic Thursday, and be near the Turks and Caicos and southeastern Bahamas late Thursday.
4.The massive storm comes on the heels of Hurricane Harvey
Hurricane season runs from June to November but peaks during late August and September. Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm, made landfall on Friday, Aug. 25 in Texas. That storm killed at least 60 people and is expected to costs upwards of $180 billion in damage, according to Fortune.
5. Hurricanes are now named so that they’re easier to remember.
Hurricanes used to be named for their locations, which made them much more difficult for the general public to keep track of. The National Hurricane Center explains:
Experience shows that the use of short, distinctive names in written as well as spoken communications is quicker and less subject to error than the older, more cumbersome latitude-longitude identification methods. These advantages are especially important in exchanging detailed storm information between hundreds of widely scattered stations, coastal bases, and ships at sea.
The use of easily remembered names greatly reduces confusion when two or more tropical storms occur at the same time. For example, one hurricane can be moving slowly westward in the Gulf of Mexico, while at exactly the same time another hurricane can be moving rapidly northward along the Atlantic coast. In the past, confusion and false rumors have arisen when storm advisories broadcast from radio stations were mistaken for warnings concerning an entirely different storm located hundreds of miles away.
In 1953, the United States started using female names for storms, but that ended in 1978.
Names are now chosen by an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization. They come up with a list of names for six years and then repeat the list every seventh year.
Storms that cause massive damage and death are retired out of sensitivity.