Sept. 9 (UPI) — Hurricane Irma weakened slightly as it began to hit hard on the north coast of Cuba on Saturday morning, the National Hurricane Center said.
The NHC said in its 8 a.m. advisory that the Category 4 storm’s center was about 10 miles northwest of Caibarien, Cuba, and 225 south of Miami — with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph. It is moving west-northwest at 12 mph.
Irma’s Center is expected to move west along the north coast of Cuba with a turn toward the north-northwest later today or early Sunday.
The storm’s interaction with Cuba’s terrain weakened it, but it is expected to restrengthen as it moves away from Cuba and as it approaches the Florida Keys Sunday morning and then near the southwest coast of Florida Sunday afternoon.
The advisory listed expected rainfall from the hurricane to reach between 10 to 15 inches in northern Cuba with isolated areas receiving 20 inches, and 5 to 10 inches in southern Cuba. The Florida Keys is expected to see 10 to 20 inches of rain, with as much as 25 inches in isolated areas.
A storm surge warning, indicating the danger of life-threatening inundation from rising water moving inland from the coast, was in place in Florida from Volusia/Brevard County Line southward around the Florida peninsula to Chassahowitzka, as well as the Florida Keys and Tampa Bay.
There also is a hurricane warning from the Flagler and Volusia county line southward around the Florida peninsula to Chassahowitzka. The Florida Keys and Florida Bay are also under a hurricane warning, as is the area around Lake Okeechobee, which is supported by a decades-old dike currently under repair.
Outside of the United States, hurricane warnings were in effect for the Cuban provinces of Camaguey, Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spiritus,Villa Clara and Matanzas and the Northwestern Bahamas.
The NHC projected Irma’s center would likely reach Florida on Sunday afternoon. The National Weather Service said parts of South Florida “may be uninhabitable for weeks or months” because of the expected high-speed winds.
Irma’s hurricane-force winds can be felt up to 70 miles from its center. Tropical-storm-force winds extend up to 195 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.