As Hurricane Irma barrels toward the northeast Caribbean, it has strengthened into a Category 5 storm.
The National Hurricane Center has warned of a growing possibility the hurricane could slam Florida later this week – as Texas and Louisiana are still dealing with the devastating aftermath caused by Hurricane Harvey earlier this month.
“Everyone in hurricane-prone areas should ensure that they have their hurricane plan in place,” officials said.
Here’s what you should know about Hurricane Irma and its trajectory.
Where is Hurricane Irma today?
As of late Tuesday afternoon, Hurricane Irma is approximately 130 miles east of the Caribbean island of Antigua, according to a 5 p.m. ET National Hurricane Center advisory.
It has maximum sustained winds of about 185 mph and was classified as a Category 5 – the highest rating for hurricanes – on Tuesday morning.
When is it expected to make landfall?
Hurricane Irma is expected to hit the Leeward Islands, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The storm’s core “will move over portions of the northern Leeward Islands tonight and early Wednesday, move near or over portions of the northern Virgin Islands Wednesday, and pass near or just north of Puerto Rico late Wednesday and Wednesday night,” it said.
Additionally, Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Haiti are also in the projected path of Hurricane Irma, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The Florida Peninsula and the Florida Keys could get his later this week or over the weekend, but otherwise it’s too early to tell how Irma could affect the continental U.S., according to the National Hurricane Center.
A hurricane warning is currently in effect for more than a dozen island nations, including the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Antigua and Saint Martin.
What else should I know about the storm?
Hurricane Irma is classified as a Category 5 storm – meaning it is extremely dangerous. It brings with it life-threatening winds, storm surges and rainfall, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Authorities warned that the storm could dump rain, cause landslides and flash floods and generate waves. Government officials began evacuations and urged people to finalize all preparations as shelves emptied out across islands including Puerto Rico.
“The decisions that we make in the next couple of hours can make the difference between life and death,” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said. “This is an extremely dangerous storm.”
Residents on the U.S. East Coast were urged to monitor the storm’s progress in case it should turn northward toward Florida, Georgia or the Carolinas.
“This hurricane has the potential to be a major event for the East Coast. It also has the potential to significantly strain FEMA and other governmental resources occurring so quickly on the heels of (Hurricane) Harvey,” Evan Myers, chief operating officer of AccuWeather, said in a statement.
“It also has the potential to significantly strain FEMA and other governmental resources occurring so quickly on the heels of (Hurricane) Harvey.”
– Evan Myers, chief operating officer of AccuWeather
And while its impact on the continental U.S. isn’t fully known yet, Florida Gov. Rick Scott already declared a state of emergency Monday in order to ensure “local governments have ample time, resources and flexibility to get prepared for this dangerous storm.”
“In Florida, we always prepare for the worst and hope for the best and while the exact path of Irma is not absolutely known at this time, we cannot afford to not be prepared,” Scott said.
The last Category 5 storm to hit the United States was Hurricane Andrew in 1992. An estimated 250,000 were left homeless and the storm caused more than $20 billion in damage in the Bahamas, Florida and Louisiana. Fifty-five people were killed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.