Hurricane Irma now Category 4; Puerto Rico, Florida declare state of emergency

Sept. 4 (UPI) — Hurricane Irma has become a category 4 storm as it barrels its way toward the Caribbean and potentially the east coast of the United States.

The National Hurricane Center said the storm was about 490 miles east of the Leeward Islands as of the 2 p.m. EDT advisory update. Irma had top winds of 130 miles per hour and was moving west-southwest at 13 miles an hour.

The hurricane center said Irma is expected to affect the northeastern Leeward Islands as a major hurricane Tuesday night and early Wednesday, “accompanied by dangerous wind, storm surge and rainfall impacts, along with rough surf and rip currents.” Rainfall accumulations of 3 to 6 inches across the islands are forecast with isolated maximum 10 inches across the northern Islands.

The NHC projects Irma could hit Puerto Rico by Wednesday afternoon, prompting Gov. Ricardo Rosello to issue a state of emergency for his island.

Irma could then hit the Dominican Republic on Thursday and Cuba by Friday. If the storm continues to gather strength, it could possibly hit South Florida by Saturday.

Whether Irma will hit the mainland United States is still uncertain, but several possible scenarios has the storm hitting South Florida by Saturday. In response, Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for all 67 counties in the state Monday to give residents time to prepare for what could be a devastating hurricane.

“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 in a statement. “This state of emergency allows our emergency management officials to act swiftly in the best interest of Floridians without the burden of bureaucracy or red tape.”

The government of France has issued a Tropical Storm Warning for Guadeloupe, according to the NHC.

CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller calls Irma a “classic ” Cape Verde hurricane — one that becomes large and intense. Examples include Hugo, Floyd and Ivan.

“Irma will begin rounding the southwestern edge of the high soon, which will allow the hurricane to turn westward later today and then west-northwestward in 36-48 hours,” Center forecaster Robbie Berg said in a discussion. “Down the road, a large mid-latitude trough is expected to dig southward over the eastern United States during the next 72 hours, but the global models have been trending toward quickly lifting the trough out over New England and eastern Canada on days 4 and 5, with the subtropical ridge building westward toward Florida.”

A hurricane warning is in effect for the following countries: Antigua, Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts, Nevis, Saba, St. Eustatius, Sint Maarten, St. Martin and Saint Barthelemy. Hurricanes watches were issued for the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico, Vieques and Culebra.

Irma became the ninth named Atlantic storm of the season Wednesday, following Hurricane Harvey.

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