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Friday early-morning tropical update (09/08/2017)

Irma forecast track (11pm 09/07/25017)
Posted at 12:00 AM, Sep 08, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-07 20:01:50-04

MIDWAY, Fla. (WTXL) -- The major Hurricane Irma continues to have destructive implications on land masses in its path, with the center of the hurricane passing very close to parts of the Turks and Caicos Islands Thursday afternoon with extreme wind force.

Irma is moving west-northwest at 16 mph, just northeast of Great Inagua Island.  Peak sustained winds have fallen to 165 mph, but still remain in the Category 5 level.  Wind gusts are capable of reaching 200 mph.

The forecast track maintains a west-northwest trajectory through the rest of this week, approaching the Florida Straits by Saturday.  Water temperatures are in the mid and upper 80s in this region, which will support its ongoing intensity.  Some modest weakening in wind speeds is possible, with a forecast strength dropping to Category 4.

Hurricane watches and warnings stretch along the southwest Florida coast, the southern tip, the Keys, and through southeast Florida.  Storm surge watches are warnings cover the Keys, the coastline near the Everglades, and the southeast Florida coast north through West Palm Beach.

Irma is still expected to turn to the northwest, then north, taking the eye of the hurricane somewhere over the southern tip of Florida by Sunday morning.

From there, a north movement is forecast, near or over Florida, through early next week.  A path over land will lead to gradual weakening, but still possible destructive winds and significant storm surges on both the west and east coast.

The cone of possible forecast movement covers all local counties in the WTXL service area.  Periods of breezes, which can reach tropical storm force of 40 mph, are possible, along with occasional rain, starting late Monday through Tuesday.  

If the storm travels farther east of the region, its effects here would be lessened.  If Irma travels closer to the west coast, or over the eastern Gulf waters, local impacts from wind and rain would be greatly enhanced.

Further monitoring and analysis of the weather pattern and forecast data will improved forecast clarity toward the end of the week and the weekend.

Elsewhere in the tropics, Hurricane Jose reached major strength and may approach the Leeward Islands this weekend, the same area hammered by Hurricane Irma earlier this week.

In the southwestern Gulf, Hurricane Katia will maintain slow movement, with a likely landfall in the Gulf coast of Mexico.