Hurricane Irma, already responsible for 8 deaths in the Caribbean Islands, is eyeing Florida. But which side?
Living a charmed life in a humid, low-shear, warm water environment as it traversed the Atlantic, Irma became the most powerful hurricane in Atlantic Ocean history (slightly stronger ones have occurred in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico).
Irma’s path has been straight and predictable, as it has been steered first west, then west-northwest by a strong high pressure area over the ocean.
But now a wave in the jet stream is forecast to split the high and allow Irma to turn northward over Florida.
Exactly where it will turn is giving forecasters a major headache: Irma could strike the west coast, Atlantic coast, or stride up the spine of the peninsula.
The turn will take place in three days as Irma nears the southern tip of Florida. The average forecast position error at 72 hours is 120 miles, and hurricane force winds extend out only 50 miles from the center.
That means that many people in large population centers still don’t know whether they will bear the catastrophic brunt of a category five hurricane or just receive a nuisance wind.
The latest report by the National Hurricane Center has Irma’s top winds at 180 miles per hour, and it will be in an environment conducive to continued category four or five status for at least three days.
Irma is a very dangerous storm.