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 130 mph (215 kph) late Monday afternoon, and the U.S. National Hurricane Center said additional strengthening was expected. Irma was centered 490 miles (790 kilometers) east of the Leeward Islands and moving west at 13 mph (20 kph).
U.S. residents are 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,” meteorologists made in a statement.
The NHC cautioned that it was still too early to forecast the storm’s exact path or what effects it might have on the continental United States, but warned of likely effects to hit some areas by later this week. Irma will be the second powerful hurricane to thrash the United States and its territories in as many weeks.
Irma is forecast to strengthen over the next 48 hours and could “directly affect Hispaniola, the Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas, and Cuba as a dangerous major hurricane later this week,” the NHC said.
Hurricane preparations should be made in advance for much of the east coast, regardless of which path Irma takes. The National Hurricane Center wants to stress that the official path is still unknown and won’t be until later in the week for the US.