It’s still too early to tell what impact, if any, Irma will have for North Carolina.
But we could know by the weekend, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service said.
Hurricane Irma struck the Caribbean early Wednesday, as the eye passed over the island of Barbuda, according to the Associated Press. The most dangerous winds are forecast to pass near the northern Virgin Islands and near or just north of Puerto Rico, AP reported.
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On Tuesday, the storm strengthened into a Category 5 hurricane. It’s expected to inch very close to the Florida Keys by Sunday morning, said Joshua Palmer, meteorologist with the weather service.
Irma is a potentially “catastrophic” storm, capable of a life-threatening storm surge and wind in the Leeward and Virgin Islands, as well as Puerto Rico.
Maximum sustained winds for Irma reached 185 mph on Tuesday, and the storm’s impact can be felt hundreds of miles away. Hurricane force winds can be felt 60 miles out from the storm, while tropical force winds have a reach of 160 miles, Palmer said.
“Generally speaking, rainfall impacts from a storm like this could be at least two to 300 miles away,” Palmer said.
After reaching Florida, weather service meteorologists think Irma is most likely to take one of three tracks: into the eastern gulf, through the state of Florida, or along the eastern coast of the state.
Storms that make landfall in the eastern Gulf of Mexico generally have greater impact on western North Carolina, Palmer said, with the possibility for heavy rain and flooding.
The storm’s path appeared to have shifted east Wednesday morning, according to the National Hurricane Center, which could move it near or over Florida’s east coast. Though the path could still shift west, the National Hurricane Center said.
“Either way, I would say at this point, certainly people need to be aware of the forecasts,” Palmer said Tuesday.
Irma isn’t the only storm in the Atlantic Ocean, as Tropical Storm Jose developed Tuesday morning. Jose is likely to develop into a hurricane and possibly a major hurricane, Palmer said. However current models indicate Jose has a chance of staying at sea, Palmer said.
LaVendrick Smith; 704-358-5101; @LaVendrickS