Sept. 7 (UPI) — Forecasters said Thursday afternoon the eye of Hurricane Irma is moving near the Turks and Caicos islands, on the storm’s way toward the Bahamas.
The National Hurricane Center said in its 5 p.m. advisory that the storm’s center was about 135 miles east of Great Inagua Island and about 40 miles south of Grand Turk Island. It recorded maximum sustained winds of 175 mph while moving west-northwest at 16 mph.
Irma is still a Category 5 storm and the NHC cautions some gusts are still topping out at more than 175 mph.
A hurricane watch and storm surge watch were issued Thursday morning in Florida from the Jupiter Inlet southbound around the bottom of the Florida peninsula to Bonita Beach. The watches also include the Florida Keys.
In its forecast, the NHC projected Irma’s center would likely reach southeast Florida on Sunday morning. The National Weather Service said parts of South Florida “may be uninhabitable for weeks or months” because of the expected high-speed winds. The weather service expects sustained winds of up to 115 mph to hit the West Palm Beach area, and added that gusts up to 150 mph are possible.
The window for tropical-storm-force winds in the West Palm Beach area is between Saturday afternoon and Monday morning, the National Weather Service said earlier Thursday.
A hurricane warning is in effect for the Dominican Republic from Cabo Engano to the northern border with Haiti; from the northern border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic to Le Mole St. Nicholas; southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands; the central Bahamas; the Cuban provinces of Camaguey, Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spiritus and Villa Clara; and the northwestern Bahamas.
“On the forecast track, the eye of Irma should continue to move between Hispaniola and the Turks and Caicos Islands this evening. The core of the hurricane will then move between the north coast of Cuba and the Bahamas during the next day or two,” the NHC said at 5 p.m.
Irma’s hurricane-force winds can be felt as far as 70 miles from its center. Tropical-storm-force winds extend up to 185 miles from Irma’s center, the NHC said.
Irma’s wind speeds have made it the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic basin, outside the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, in the NHC’s recorded history, the center said.