Irma reaches Florida, heads north
Hurricane Irma sped up early Sunday morning before hitting the Florida Keys, returning to Category 4 status with top speeds of 130 mph. And, for the first time ever, Atlanta was placed under a tropical storm warning.
Irma arrived just east of Key West about 9 a.m. Although shifting somewhat westerly, Irma now targets Fort Myers and Tampa where peak gusts could reach 160 mph.
Tampa could also experience storm surges greater than 9 feet, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service meteorologist Kevin Scasny. Tampa should feel Irma’s wrath early Monday morning.
The Service’s 18 refuges along Florida’s west coast, including Key West, J.N. “Ding” Darling and Crystal River, face massive flooding and destructive winds.
“It’s still just a devastating hurricane coming up the Florida coast,” Scasny said during a 9 a.m. conference call with Service storm responders.
The Weather Channel earlier this morning referenced the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s weather station at Key Deer several times this morning. At the time it may have been one of the few or the only station still reporting in the lower keys. It recorded a 120 MPH gust.
He said it’s going to take a more westerly track towards the Mississippi River Valley and, as a much weakened storm, eventually reach Memphis.
As the storm enters Georgia, sometime Monday afternoon, Scasny predicts maximum winds of 115 mph – still a dangerous Category 1 hurricane. The wind field, where tropical storm winds can extend 220 miles in every direction from the eye, will be “huge,” he added.
Eastern Florida, along the Atlantic Ocean may be spared the brunt of Irma’s wrath, but hurricane force winds, large storm surges, heavy rains and tornadoes remain major threats.
Metro Atlanta was placed under a tropical storm warning Sunday, according to the National Weather Service. Residents can expect sustained winds of 40 miles per hour with gusts reaching 52 mph. The city’s northeastern edge could see gusts topping 60 mph.
Jeff Fleming, External Affairs
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