Hurricane Irma is battering the Florida Keys. According to 8 a.m. updates, Irma has maximum sustained winds of 130 mph and is moving north-northwest, hugging Florida’s West Coast.
The first hurricane force winds have just been reported in Naples, while farther south the Florida Keys are bracing for Irma’s most powerful winds.
Irma initially weakened after passing over the mountainous regions of Cuba, shrinking from a Category 5 to a Category 3, but she has since strengthened into a colossal Category 4 storm.
Irma is moving at 8 mph, which is slower than originally anticipated. The combination of Irma’s high force winds and slow movement will only exaggerate her effects, drawing out her devastating rain and winds as she passes through the state.
Gov. Rick Scott reported that 76,000 south Floridian residents have already lost power, but this number will likely be dwarfed as thousands of others are affected by Irma’s trek up the Florida peninsula.
According to reports published by the National Hurricane Center at 2 p.m. yesterday, Irma had the possibility of moving so far into the Gulf that she would miss the Florida coast entirely.
However, the most recent models today show no such signs. While Irma continues to inch west, she has not moved far enough to spare Florida’s West Coast from the worst.
With Irma’s arrival finally here, the path she will take is at its most certain. As of 8 a.m., Irma’s eye is set to engulf Naples, Captiva, and Tampa almost entirely.
Her westward movement has placed coastal cities on the east side of the hurricane, where the force of the winds is the most powerful because hurricanes spin in a counterclockwise direction.
While most are worried about Irma’s wind speed, her expected storm surge will be equally, if not more, devastating. The National Hurricane Center has been alerting Fort Myers and Naples residents to expect water levels up to 15 feet.
There is little residents can do to prevent storm surge. Placing sandbags around the boundaries of their houses would normally suffice, but Irma will bring surge levels to new heights.
“This is a life-threatening situation,” Gov. Rick Scott said. “Our state has never seen anything like it.”
With Irma’s arrival hours away, southwest Florida’s roads are still and quiet. Stores are boarded up with plywood across their windows, and signs advising customers of tentative reopening schedules flap freely in the wind.
The frenzy of storm preparation in southwest Florida has finally ended, and as Irma surges through the Florida Keys, the only thing we can do is hunker down and wait.