Hurricane watches up in coastal South Florida

Hurricane Irma's 1st strike, due in Florida Saturday night

By John Gaughan - Chief meteorologist , Rebecca Barry - Meteorologist , Mark Collins - Meteorologist
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Hurricane Irma has lost a little intensity, but remains extremely dangerous Category 5 storm Thursday as the eye of the storm moves near the coast of the Dominican Republic.

Click for the latest Hurricane Irma track and forecast

At 2 p.m., a hurricane watch has been issued from Jupiter Inlet south and around the peninsula to Bonita Beach, including the Florida Keys, Lake Okeechobee and Florida Bay. A storm surge watch was in affect for the same area.

The storm's maximum sustained are down to 175 mph, down 10 mph from Wednesday night, but it remains a Cat 5 hurricane. Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 50 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 185 miles.

The latest NHC advisory shows the storm 65 miles north-northeast of Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republican and moving west-northwest at 16 mph. It about 1,000 miles from Jacksonville. 

Some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or two, but Irma is forecast to remain a powerful Category 4 or 5 hurricane during the next few days and is projected to be Category 3 as it passes just off the coast of Jacksonville on Monday.

Eye on the Storm header

On the forecast track, landfall in or close to south Florida is expected Sunday. Tropical storm force winds could develop over south Florida late Friday night. Jacksonville could see tropical storm force gusts beginning Saturday night with hurricane winds developing Sunday evening through Monday.

A track up the state would put Sunday squalls into Jacksonville with winds gusting over 30 mph and even higher starting Saturday and numerous steady rain bands Sunday evening. Due to its size and intensity, massive power outages and disruptions will take place from the Keys to central Georgia.

Latest wind forecasts models for Northeast Florida

Call for tropical storm gusts late Saturday and winds over 40 mph becoming sustained early Sunday and increasing through Sunday afternoon. Hurricane gusts to 80-90 mph possible overnight Sunday and early Monday morning.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott activated an additional 900 members of the Florida National Guard to prepare for Hurricane Irma. Scott called up the additional guard members on Wednesday, a day after he had activated an initial 100 members. During a stop in the Florida Keys, Scott said that he still plans to another 6,000 National Guard members report to duty on Friday.

On Monday, Scott declared a state of emergency in all of Florida's 67 counties.

Irma, the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic, has killed at least nine people and injured 23 in French Caribbean island territories as the dangerous storm roared over the Caribbean, France's interior minister said Thursday. The storm destroyed homes and flooded streets as it roared through a the chain of small islands in the northern Caribbean.

Forecasters said Irma could strike the Miami area by early Sunday, then rake the entire length of the state's east coast and push into Georgia and the Carolinas.

It has been almost 25 years since Florida took a hit from a Category 5 storm. Hurricane Andrew struck just south of Miami in 1992 with winds topping 165 mph, killing 65 people and inflicting $26 billion in damage. It was at the time the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history.

This is only the second time since satellites started tracking storms about 40 years ago that one maintained 185 mph winds for more than 24 hours, said Colorado State University meteorology professor Phil Klotzbach. The other was the massive killer typhoon Haiyan that killed more than 6,000 people in the Philippines in 2013.

Copyright 2017 by WJXT News4Jax. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.