Hurricane Irma near final approach into U.S.

Sept. 9 (UPI) — The outer forces of Hurricane Irma began lashing parts of South Florida Saturday evening, bringing strong winds and rain to the Florida Keys and Miami metropolitan area — as it began its final push north that will ultimately crash it into the U.S. mainland.

The National Hurricane Center said in its 8 p.m. advisory that the Category 3 storm’s center was about 30 miles east-northeast of Varadero, Cuba, 110 miles southeast of Key West — and 120 miles south of the U.S. mainland. The storm has maximum sustained winds of 120 mph. It’s moving west-northwest at 7 mph.

In its update, the NHC said a hurricane watch — meaning a storm is imminent — was issued for west of the Aucilla River to Indian Pass, Fla. A storm surge warning was also extended from the Volusia-Brevard
County Line north to the South Santee River.

Storm surge warnings remain in effect for the Florida Keys and Tampa Bay. Surges could bring as many as 15 feet of water near the coastlines.

“A northwest motion is expected to begin tonight with a turn toward the north-northwest on Sunday,” the NHC said.

The NHC also said it expected “heavy squalls with embedded tornadoes sweeping across South Florida.”

Tornado watches have been issued for nine Florida counties.

Though Irma is now a Category 3 storm, forecasters said it could restrengthen in the warm waters of the Florida Straits.

“Irma is forecast to restrengthen once it moves away from Cuba and remain a powerful hurricane as it approaches Florida,” the NHC advisory said.

Irma’s hurricane-force winds can be felt up to 70 miles from its center, and tropical-storm winds extend up to 195 miles. 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.

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