Hurricane Irma grew into a powerful Category 4 storm Monday as it approached the northeastern Caribbean and was forecast to begin buffeting the region Tuesday.
The storm had maximum sustained winds of 140 mph (220 kph) Monday night, and the U.S. National Hurricane Center said additional strengthening was expected. Irma was centered 450 miles (725 kilometers) east of the Leeward Islands and moving west at 13 mph (20 kph).
Emergency officials warned that the storm could dump up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain, unleash landslides and dangerous flash floods and generate waves of up to 23 feet (7 meters) as the storm drew closer.
“We’re looking at Irma as a very significant event,” Ronald Jackson, executive director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, said by phone. “I can’t recall a tropical cone developing that rapidly into a major hurricane prior to arriving in the central Caribbean.”
The storm’s center was forecast to move near or over the northern Leeward Islands late Tuesday and early Wednesday, the hurricane center said.
U.S. residents were urged to monitor the storm’s progress in case it should turn northward toward Florida, Georgia or the Carolinas.
On the left, Puerto Rico and the eastern Caribbean.
On the right, Category 4 Hurricane Irma.
(Image taken just now, via GOES-16) pic.twitter.com/meq4yWpy6w
— Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) September 5, 2017
Update: Hurricane Irma is now a nightmarish Cat 5 and poised to smash the Leeward Islands. If you are religious, please think of the islanders in your prayers today, especially since Florida is likely next:
Hurricane Irma — now a Cat 5 — is one of the strongest storms ever recorded in the Atlantic https://t.co/uvc2Vwg7bn
— Jesse Rodriguez (@JesseRodriguez) September 5, 2017