Hurricane Irma to move over the Florida Keys

Forecasters say Irma's prime target is now Gulf Coast, Tampa, not Miami

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The 7 am advisory from the National Hurricane Center is out. It shows extreme wind warnings for the Florida Keys. Irma has 130 mph winds and is moving northwest at 8 mph.

LATEST: Continuing coverage of Hurricane Irma as it makes landfall in Florida Keys

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.

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.

Hurricane warnings extend from Brunswick, Georgia, south past Jacksonville to Miami, around the peninsula to near Panama City.

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. 

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.

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

Scott says the entire west coast of Florida will likely see dangerous effects from storm surge as Hurricane Irma comes ashore Sunday. By Saturday night, more than 170,000 homes and businesses in Florida had lost power.

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.

Residents of Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia should be monitoring and preparing for hurricane conditions in the next 48 hours. Main threats will be tropical-storm and hurricane-force winds and isolated tornadoes before and after the center of the storm passes. 

Along the beaches, there will be further erosion with rough surf, rip currents and coastal flooding.  Expect the worst of Irma's weather to begin Sunday and continue through Monday night.

As the nor'easter develops Saturday, expect waves of rain, some locally heavy with some areas receiving multiple inches as training develops off the Atlantic. All coastal zones should keep a close eye on the radar.

A flash flood watch for Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia is already in effect due to rain from the nor'easter that will bring rain, some locally heavy.

Because of potentially heavy rainfall, News4Jax has declared Saturday a Weather Authority Alert Day.

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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