Center of Category 2 Hurricane Irma aims for Tampa Bay area

After pummeling Florida Keys, Irma takes aim at mainland


According the National Hurricane Center’s  8 p.m. advisory , the center of Hurricane Irma was  located by the NOAA Doppler radar just north Fort Myers.

Irma is moving north to near 14 mph and a movement toward the north is expected northwest with an increase in tonnage speed tonight, with a continuation in that movement until Monday. In the predicted trajectory, Irma's eye is expected to move near or on the west coast of the Florida Peninsula to the Monday in the morning. Then, Irma must move inland on the northern Florida and southwest Georgia on Monday afternoon. 

Sustained maximum winds have dropped to about 105 mph with higher winds. Although predicted weakening, Irma is expected to remain a hurricane for up to at least Monday morning.

Winds with hurricane force extend up to 80 miles from the center, and tropical storm force winds extend up to 220 miles. The reported minimum central pressure is 942 mb. 

Hurricane conditions are continuing through  portions of the south of the Florida Peninsula. Winds affecting higher floors in elevated buildings will be significantly more  stronger than those at ground level. Conditions of tropical storm and hurricane spreading northward across  of the rest of the areas under notice until Monday. Conditions of tropical storm is possible in the area under notice in the northwest  of the Bahamas early tonight.

Irma is expected to produce the following accumulations total rainfall until Wednesday:

West Bahamas - 2 to 4 additional inches, insulated quantities of 6 inches.

Florida Keys - 3 to 6 additional inches with total accumulations of 15 to 20 inches, insulated quantities of 25 inches.

The West Peninsula of Florida - 10 to 15 inches, quantities isolated from 20 inches.

The East Florida Peninsula and southeast of Georgia - 8 to 12 inches, isolated quantities of 16 inches.

Rest of Georgia, the eastern peninsula of Florida, south and west  of South Carolina, and west of North Carolina - 3 to 8 inches,  isolated quantities of 12 inches.

Southern Tennessee, Northern Mississippi, and most of  Alabama - 2 to 5 inches.

Some tornadoes will be possible until tonight, mainly through areas of the center and east of the peninsula Florida and the southeastern tip of Georgia.


UPDATED STORY: Irma makes first landfall on U.S. mainland


The eye of the storm spent about an hour over the lower Florida Keys as a Category 4 storm Sunday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The storm made landfall on Cudjoe Key in the lower Florida Keys at 9:10 a.m. and the eye began moving away from the Lower Florida Keys about 10 a.m. 

At 3 p.m. its top sustained winds remained at 120 mph as it was about 20 miles south of Naples moving north at 12 mph.

As the eye passed just west of Big Pine Key earlier in the day, an automated weather reporting station at the National Key Deer Refuge measured a wind gust of 120 mph.

A 92 mph wind gust was reported by the Federal Aviation Administration station at Miami International Airport.

Closer to our area, St. Augustine reported a 56 mph gust, Mayport reported 50 mph, 41 mph at JAX, 42 mph on the I-295 bridge, 32 mph at Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport, and 38 mph at Brunswick / Glynco Airport.

Hurricane warnings extend from Fernandina Beach south past Jacksonville to Miami, around the peninsula to near Panama City, and also in the Florida Keys, Lake Okeechobee and Florida Bay.

A hurricane watch is in effect for north of Fernandina Beach to Edisto beach.

A storm surge warning is in effect for South Santee River southward to Jupiter Inlet, North Miami beach southward around the Florida peninsula to the Ochlockonee River, the Florida Keys and Tampa Bay.

An extreme wind warning was issued just before 12:30 p.m. Sunday for southwestern Collier County until 3:30 p.m. as the eyewall of Hurricane Irma approached the coast 10 miles south of Everglades City.

Hurricane Irma became tied for the seventh strongest storm to make landfall in U.S. history by a key measurement of atmospheric pressure.

Hurricane Irma made landfall with a minimum central pressure of 929 millibars. Atmospheric pressure is one of the major measurements meteorologists use to describe storms. The lower the pressure, the stronger the storm.

Only six storms on record had lower pressures when striking the United States, including Katrina. When Katrina hit in 2005, it had lower pressure but its wind speed kept it at Category 3.

The 929 pressure mark ties Irma with the deadly 1928 Lake Okeechobee hurricane.

Irma's arrival also marks another first.

Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach says this is the first year on record that the United States has been hit by two storms that were Category 4 upon landfall: Harvey and Irma.

WATCH: Webcams along Florida coast show Irma's fury

The National Hurricane Center forecasts that the core of Hurricane Irma will likely chug directly for the highly populated Tampa-St. Petersburg region after it gets through raking the Keys, but the storm is so massive all of Florida will be feeling the Category 4 hurricane's fury. Storm surge is forecast for 10 to 15 feet in southwestern Florida.

The latest forecast of Irma's eye -- which still can change -- keeps the nearly 400-mile wide (640-kilometer) storm in the water, barely off the coast of southwestern Florida's Fort Myers and Naples.

But that also puts that region in the strongest northeast quadrant of the storm, where storm surge, wind, rain and tornado threats are highest.

And a few miles wiggle could bring Irma's eye -- which has measured 30 miles wide (48 kilometers) -- inland.

The storm is moving slowly, about 9 mph (13 kilometers per hour) so its eye is likely to hit the Tampa region around 2 a.m. Monday, but damaging winds, storm, surge, rain and tornadoes will reach the area long before then.

Irma’s slow movement over the very warm Florida Straights waters will maintain Irma’s strength as a major hurricane this morning and afternoon, before increasing wind shear and land interaction slowly starts to weaken the storm. 

Regardless, Irma will be a very powerful storm as its eye travels very close to Florida’s west coast, with all cities along the coast significantly impacted.

The latest forecast includes an updated path that would take the storm near if not over Tampa Bay and Steinhatchee before taking it north into Southwest Georgia.

RELATED: 1st ever Tropical Storm warning for Atlanta

Tampa has not been struck by a major hurricane since 1921, when its population was about 10,000, National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said. Now the area has around 3 million people.

Our in-house RPM model has just updated with the new 8 a.m. weather balloon data ingested, so here’s the latest projections on the storm’s movement up the state:

The Weather Authority continues to emphasize that dangerous conditions extend well out away from the eye.  Conditions will steadily deteriorate here in northeast Florida through Monday, with areas west of I-75 likely to experience hurricane forecast wind gusts, and our entire area at least receiving tropical storm force gusts.  All of the rain we are receiving softens the soil, which then makes it easier for the wind to topple trees.  As we near the storm’s peak later tonight into early Monday, it is important to shelter in place and STAY OFF THE ROADS.  The number one priority after conditions begin improving will be to clear the roads of all trees and debris so that first responders and power crews can get to their vitally important tasks as soon as possible.

Also remember that the tornado threat will increase through Monday, and there have already been a number of tornado warnings issued downstate.

Finally, while everybody is focusing on wind with this storm, don’t forget the water aspect.  Eight to fifteen inches of total rain will, by itself, cause flooding.  Add on the initial east to northeast winds creating a storm surge for our coastal locations, and the south winds that will develop as Irma continues pushing north of us that will push the St. Johns River water northward, and flooding is a very real concern.

It is important to remember that even a very small eastward shift in Irma’s track would correspond to an eastward shift in the most significant conditions.  The Weather Authority will closely monitor Irma’s track through the day and immediately let you know if there are any changes.

As The Weather Authority has been telling you over and over (and also last year with Hurricane Matthew), it is very important to remember not to just focus on the eye’s track. Hurricane force winds (74 mph or greater) now extend out up to 80 miles from the center, and tropical storm force winds (39 mph or greater) extend out 200 miles. 

Because of the storm's track, inland NE Florida counties could experience 65 mph sustained winds and higher gusts. Gainesville and Lake City could see 100 mph winds.

Florida Power & Light says it will be weeks, not days, before electricity is fully restored because of the damage being done by Hurricane Irma.

Spokesman Rob Gould said Sunday that an estimated 3.4 million homes and businesses will lose power once the worst of Irma reaches the Florida mainland. He expects thousands of miles (kilometers) of poles and lines will need to be replaced, particularly on the Gulf coast. As of Sunday afternoon, about 1.5 million customers were without power.

He said 17,000 restoration workers from as far away as California and Massachusetts are already stationed around the state, but it will take time to rebuild the system.

The utility covers much of the state, including most cities on the Atlantic coast and the Gulf coast south of Tampa.  It does not cover Tampa and St. Petersburg, two major cities in Irma's forecast path.

NHC encourages all interests to prepare for hurricane conditions for the next 48 hours. Main threats will be tropical storm and hurricane force winds. Isolated tornadoes could occur before and after the center of the storm passes. Along the beaches, further erosion with rough surf, rip currents and coastal flooding is likely. 

In Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia, expect the worst of Irma's weather to begin Sunday evening and continue overnight, with sustained winds in the metro area of 40 mph, gusting to 65 mph. 

Gov. Rick Scott issued urgent warnings over the last several days, asking about 6.3 million -- one-third of the state's residents -- to evacuate ahead of the massive hurricane, which is on track to be the state's most catastrophic ever.

Scott said the entire west coast of Florida will likely see dangerous effects from storm surge as Hurricane Irma comes ashore Sunday.

During a Saturday news conference, Scott told those in evacuation zones: "You need to leave. Not tonight, not in an hour, right now."

The National Guard currently has 250 members in Jacksonville and 250 more are expected.  Scott also said the state needs 1,000 volunteer nurses. Click here for more information.

WATCH LIVE: Continuing coverage from News4Jax
VIDEO: Irma's projected timeline for Jacksonville & beyond
VIDEO: Gov. Rick Scott's Saturday AM briefing

In each forecast update Saturday, the NHC shifted the storm's track slightly to the west, creating a dangerous situation for the Florida Gulf Coast. It could slam communities in Southwest Florida, including Naples and Fort Myers. Landfall may also occur as far north as Tampa or the Big Bend as a strong Category 3 hurricane.

Scott said that the storm surge is expected to be up to 15 feet in some areas along the west coast of Florida. In the Tampa Bay area, Scott said the storm surge could be between 5 feet and 8 feet.

"This is the most catastrophic storm the state has ever seen," Scott said.

Irma strengthened Friday night into a Category 5 storm just before making landfall in Cuba but lost strength overnight as it moved west along the coast to that island nation. It continued lashing the northern coast of Cuba on Saturday morning.

A flash flood watch for Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia is already in effect due to rain from a nor'easter.

Models continue to indicate heavy rainfall across the region and west of I-75 with amounts averaging 8-15 inches with higher amounts possible. Winds increasing from the northeast at 15-20 mph, gusts to 30 mph.  Highs in the low 80s. Rain chances will build through the day, up to 70 percent, becoming 100 percent Sunday.

Sunday:   Increasing wind throughout the day with tropical rainbands moving into the region with sustained tropical-storm force wind arriving in  Alachua, Putnam and Flagler counties early Sunday morning.  Tropical storm winds with higher gusts will spread north by midday Sunday through the evening, throughout Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia, and as continue to increase through the late night hours, with wind 20 to 40 mph, with gusts 50 to 60 mph.

Monday:  Irma is forecast to pass very close to the Suwannee Valley.  Hurricane-force wind, especially gusts, will be possible across Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia. This will also bring an increasing tropical tornado threat. Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia should prepare for a Category 1 wind gusts as a reasonable worst-case scenario. 

Irma is expected pass west of Jacksonville midday Monday and weather will begin to improve as the system moves away from the region.

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