Irma's approach shifts to the west coast,threatening Gulf Coast cities,like Tampa,Naples and Fort Myers.But because of the size of this storm,even the south east coast will also be in danger,due to storm surge.
It brings life-threatening "wind impacts".Even though those sustained winds dipped down to 125 miles per hour/category 3 after hitting Cuba, it is expected to now pick back up strength over open waters before hitting the Florida Keys early Sunday morning and the mainland Sunday afternoon. Governor Scott was telling people in the southwest part of the state to leave their homes by noon for shelter.
Already the outer bands of the storm are bringing rain to South Florida,by Saturday night,the weather will be at hurricane conditions.
The Lower Keys are on track to get a direct hit at Marathon,Fla where the main operation center for emergencies is located prompting officials to consider moving operations to Key West. The biggest worry is in the Upper and Middle Keys that will get a storm surge of 5 to 10 feet.
“We evacuated our visitors and have evacuated most of our residents,” the Monroe County administrator, Roman Gastesi, said in the statement. “We continue to try to persuade our residents that remain in the Keys to get out while they still can.”
“Now, we must think of the safety of our emergency operations staff and first responders and evacuate them out of harm’s way.”
The United States Coast Guard in Key West has already evacuated all its employees. - NYT
The storm surge could reach 8 to 12 feet. Naples could get a 9 foot wave. This storm surge could affect not just the immediate coastline,but far inland as well. 8 to 15 inches of rain are expected through Tuesday night,with some areas receiving as much as 20 inches (possibly 25 inches in the Keys).
Pinellas County (St. Petersburg) has ordered 260,000 more people to leave.
25,000 people have already lost power in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties. Florida Power and Light expects 9 million people will be effected by the storm.
An estimated 5.6 million Florida residents have been ordered to evacuate,one of the largest emergency evacuations in American history, causing traffic jams - bumper to bumper along much of I-75 north,fuel shortages and overrun hotels. Hotels are mostly sold out in Atlanta and the region with residents coming from both Florida and the Georgia coastline.Reports say that some people have resorted to just sleeping in their cars at hotel parking lots.
540,000 people along Georgia's coast were told to leave,South Carolina issued an evacuation notice for some barrier islands,including Hilton Head Island,where it may receive 4 to 6 feet storm surge. Hilton Head Island has about 40,000 residents (20,000 have already left). The effect of the storm will be felt by Monday morning in these areas. North Carolina and Alabama have both declared states of emergency,although Alabama is expected to escape the brunt of the effects. Virginia declared a state of emergency on Fri. so that state officials can mobilize state resources like the National Guard and help other affected states.
Florida ports have been closed,which cuts off additional supplies of fuel from being available. But Gov. Scott said fuel trucks will keep restocking gas stations for as long as possible. Scott also said he waived import taxes for the next several days.
Publix grocery stores have said they are going to close stores in waves across the state. State officials are telling everyone in the state should have at least 3 days worth of food and water in case emergency response teams are overloaded and can not reach everyone. Airports have said they will cease operations.
Synagogues in Atlanta are taking in Jewish evacuees and providing kosher meals. (Young Israel of Toco Hills,an Orthodox congregation is providing kosher meals for more than 1,000 people)
Florida Governor Rick Scott is asking for 1,000 nursing volunteers to help at special-needs shelters(Miami-Dade County began evacuating special needs residents as early as Wednesday).
We need more nurses,” the governor said, asking those who were willing to work to email BPRCHDpreparedness@flhealth.gov. “All available nurses, if you’ll please respond.” -NYT
More than 50,000 people are already in regular shelters. State officials are encouraging people to move to the shelters within their county(the majority of these shelters are public schools),not to exit the state,thus clogging up the roads and getting stuck on a highway in a hurricane.
More than 260 shelters are opened across every country,with 70 more scheduled to be opened today.
Miami-Dade County has more than 650,000 people under evacuation orders and shelter capacity for 100,000. Seven of their shelters are already at capacity.
The National Weather Service office in Key West posted warnings:
“THIS IS AS REAL AS IT GETS”
“NOWHERE IN THE FLORIDA KEYS WILL BE SAFE.”
Florida officials are saying that Irma could be worse than Hurricane Andrew (a category 5 storm that hit South Florida in 1992,killing 61 people and causing $48 billion (2017) dollars of damage - the costliest storm in US history until Katrina in 2005)
Florida Governor Scott says that both FEMA and President Trump have guaranteed all necessary federal resources for dealing with the storm (and presumedly the aftermath)
As of 8 a.m. Saturday, Irma was 225 miles south of Miami, moving to the west-northwest at 12 miles per hour. Hurricane-force winds reach up to 70 miles from the storm’s center, and tropical-storm-force winds extend 195 miles out.
Outer rain bands from Irma were beginning to move into Collier County with winds reaching 60 miles per hour, and bands nearing Miami were packing 55 mile-per-hour winds
During a news conference Saturday morning, Gov. Rick Scott urged Floridians to heed evacuation orders and seek shelter immediately.
“Evacuate,” he said. “Not tonight, not in an hour. You need to go right now.”
“Just remember this,” he said, “Once the storm starts, law enforcement cannot save you.”
When (William “Brock” Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency was) asked about people in South Florida who intend to ride out the storm at home, Long was blunt.
“I can guarantee you that I don’t know anybody in Florida that’s ever experienced what’s about to hit South Florida,” Long said. “They need to get out and listen and heed the warnings.”
"(The core) is forecast right now to still go through the lower keys, not quite to Key West, and then on up to Naples, on up to Cape Coral, with a Category 4 wind of 140 mph," CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said earlier Saturday.
Hurricane warnings were extended north along Florida's west coast as far as Perry, and along the eastern coast to include Fernandina Beach, north of Jacksonville. A storm surge warning wraps around the state, from Brevard County to Tampa Bay.
And though the hurricane's core has the most power, Irma is huge. Winds of at least tropical-storm force covered 70,000 square miles -- just larger than Florida's entire land area.
Miami began feeling some of Irma's winds on Saturday, with high-rise construction cranes sent spinning in circles.
From USA Today:
When the 300-mile wide storm roars ashore, it will act like a giant buzzsaw as it plows up the state's west coast late Saturday and into Monday, battering cities such as Key West, Naples, Fort Myers, Sarasota, and the Tampa-St. Pete area with hurricane-force winds, torrential rain, and devastating storm-surge inundation.
“This will be the worst single hurricane to hit Florida since Hurricane Andrew in 1992,” said meteorologist Joel N. Myers, head of AccuWeather.
If the storm hits at Category 4 strength, as predicted, the ferocious 130 mph winds in Irma's eye wall will produce "catastrophic damage." Locations where a Category 4 eye wall hits will see "power outages that will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months," the hurricane center said.