Sept. 4 (UPI) — Hurricane Irma has become a category 4 storm and a warning has been issued for the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
The National Hurricane Center said the storm was about 410 miles east of the Leeward Islands as of the 11 p.m. EDT advisory update. Irma had top winds of 140 miles per hour and was moving west-southwest at 13 miles an hour.
The NHC also issued a warning for the following nations: Antigua, Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saba, St. Eustatius, and Sint Maarten, Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy, British Virgin Islands, Vieques and Culebra.
Already a category 4, Irma is expected to gather strenth in the next few days as it makes its way westward.
“Irma is moving toward the west near 13 miles per hour and this general motion is expected to continue into Tuesday, followed by a turn toward the west-northwest late Tuesday,” the NHC said. ” On the forecast track, the center of Irma will move near or over portions of the northern Leeward Islands Tuesday night and early Wednesday.”
The NHC projects Irma could hit Puerto Rico by Wednesday evening, 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.”
Some parts of Puerto Rico are already preparing for the possibility that come parts of the island could be without electricity for months, according to Puerto Rico’s Authority for Electric Energy.
If Irma does make landfall in any of the U.S. territories in its path, including the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, it will be the first time two category 4 hurricanes made landfall in the United States in a single year, according to meteorologist Eric Holthaus.
In 1992, a category 4 and category 5 made landfall in the United States, but not two category 4’s, he added.
“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.”
Irma became the ninth named Atlantic storm of the season Wednesday, following Hurricane Harvey.