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When should Carolinians worry about Irma – the Atlantic’s latest powerful hurricane?

Irma is the next powerful hurricane to threaten the Caribbean and U.S. coast. Irma reached winds of up to 120 mph as it chugged westward in the open Atlantic on Friday evening.
Irma is the next powerful hurricane to threaten the Caribbean and U.S. coast. Irma reached winds of up to 120 mph as it chugged westward in the open Atlantic on Friday evening. National Hurricane Center

With all that’s happened in Texas with Hurricane Harvey, Carolinians can’t help but cast a wary eye to the Atlantic, where Hurricane Irma was motoring along with winds of up 120 mph on Friday, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

No need to worry yet, as it could be at least early next week before forecasters know if the Category 3 hurricane has a chance to reach the Carolinas.

This much is known: Irma is forecast “to remain a powerful #hurricane for many days over the tropical Atlantic Ocean,” the center said in a public advisory at 11 a.m.

The Washington Post described Irma as “a beast of a storm, feeding on warm water as it churns west across the Atlantic Ocean.”

Forecasters on Friday put the hurricane, which was in the open Atlantic, five days from the outermost Caribbean islands and at least a week from any chance of nearing the United States. No coastal warnings or watches were issued as of Friday night, according to the hurricane center.

At 5 p.m. Friday, the National Hurricane Center said Irma is expected to be a “major hurricane” when it approaches the Lesser Antilles early next week. Irma was chugging along at 13 mph.

“It is much too early to determine what direct impacts Irma will have on the continental United States,” the center said. “Regardless, everyone in hurricane-prone areas should ensure that they have their hurricane plan in place, as we now are near the peak of the season.”

In May, forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted an above-normal hurricane season for 2017. The season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.

NOAA forecasters predict a 70 percent likelihood of 11 to 17 named storms – winds of 39 mph or higher –of which five to nine could become hurricanes, with winds of 74 mph or higher. The prediction included two to four major hurricanes – Category 3, 4 or 5 – with winds of 111 mph or higher.

An average season produces 12 named storms, of which six become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes, according to NOAA.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak

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