Adalberto Roque | AFP | Getty Images
A man walks against heavy winds after the passage of Hurricane Irma, at Caibarien, Villa Clara province, 330km east of Havana, on September 9, 2017.
Hurricane Irma, which was downgraded to a Category 3 storm on Saturday, is set to gain its second wind before buffeting the outskirts of Florida’s coast early Sunday morning with “catastrophic and life-threatening” conditions, the National Weather Service reported.
As of 5pm Eastern, the destructive weather system was located about 115 miles south of Key West, where Florida officials have already issued mandatory evacuation orders that have sent millions of residents fleeing for safety.
Irma will likely make landfall as a Category 4 storm. The NWS stated that “major hurricane force winds” were expected to batter the area at daybreak, with winds speeds well over 100 miles per hour making their way up the state’s western coast.
On Friday, the agency warned via Twitter that “nowhere in the Florida Keys will be safe,” and that residents should clear out while they were able.
Since Irma passed over Cuba, weather conditions across Florida have been deteriorating progressively, and officials have upgraded warnings across areas considered most at risk. Irma’s westward shift has now put major Floridian cities such as Naples and Tampa at risk. Irma has already killed dozens across the Caribbean, leaving decimation in its wake.
Powerful storm surges are currently in the forecast for Florida’s Gulf Coast, even as swaths of South Florida — most notably Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach County — are seen in less jeopardy than they were just a day ago. Still, the storm’s toll is expected to be high, even as Congress hastily approved $15 billion in emergency spending in preparation for Irma’s arrival.
The Tampa area has not taken a direct hit from a major hurricane in nearly a century.