Hurricane Irma track shifts farther east; Central Florida remains in 'cone'
Category 5 storm one of strongest on record
ORLANDO, Fla. – As Hurricane Irma continues on its path toward Florida as a category 5 storm packing 185 mph winds, all of Central Florida is in the cone of uncertainty.
Many computer models, however, suggest the massive weather system -- the strongest hurricane ever recorded in this specific region of the Atlantic -- could push east after taking a sharp north turn toward the Sunshine State. Hurricane Allen, in 1980, had winds of 190 mph.
As of Wednesday morning, Irma was moving to the west-northwest at 15 mph and likely won't weaken before moving over Puerto Rico later in the day.
Irma will move north of Hispaniola by the end of the week and head into Cuba, likely interacting more with land over Cuba.
Irma is then expected to make a turn to the north, impacting the Florida Keys by Sunday night.
"Keep in mind, the entire cone of uncertainty does reach Orlando, so the eye of the storm could actually reach as far north as Orlando or as far south as western Cuba," News 6 meteorologist Troy Bridges said. "There are still lots of uncertainties in the five-day forecast as to exactly where Irma will end up."
Computer models are showing that Irma could push off Florida's east coast.
"If this trend continues, we could see the actual track shift farther east and put the eye of Irma off of our coast rather than on land. That would be a better scenario than what we saw Tuesday when many models took it right over the spine of Florida," Bridges said. "We will watch for the system to possibly do what Matthew did last year and move along our eastern coast, impacting Brevard and Volusia counties and then eventually turning off to the north and northeast. All of this is still up in the air. Stay tuned."
As Hurricane Irma's eye roars away from the tiny island of Barbuda and toward St. Martin, residents along its path scrambled to evacuate and also stocked up on water, food and gas.
The massive eye stared down on the tiny island of Barbuda early Wednesday, thrashing it with high winds before marching along its path on the Caribbean.
Irma's eye was bigger than Barbuda, CNN meteorologist Jenn Varian said.
The hurricane is "potentially catastrophic," especially if it hits islands at high tides, the National Hurricane Center said.
Here are the latest developments:
- Islands along its path include Puerto Rico, Barbuda, Antigua, St. Kitts and Nevis, and the US Virgin Islands.
- Barbuda, a no-frills Caribbean destination, is a beloved hideaway for tourists and has a population of 1,600.
- In the US Virgin Islands, Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp ordered a 36-hour curfew starting Wednesday at 6 a.m. local time.
- "The beginning of the curfew coincides with the expected arrival of heavy rain and strong winds associated with Irma," Mapp said.
- Under curfew restrictions, anyone without authorization should remain indoors to allow crews to clear roads and restore services without disruptions, he said.
- In the Bahamas, emergency evacuations have been ordered for six southern islands.
- The islands affected are Mayaguana, Inagua, Crooked Island, Acklins, Long Cay and Ragged Island.
- "This is the largest such evacuation in the history of the country," Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said.
- Bahamian officials also canceled vacation time for police and defense forces.
- In the US territory of Puerto Rico, residents boarded up windows and lined up at stores to buy water that was hard to come by. Winds howled overnight.
- The Bahamas has issued a hurricane warning for its southeastern region, and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
- Hundreds of miles away, anxious Florida residents wondered how badly it'll get hit.
- Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Jose is expected to become a hurricane by Wednesday night.
- "Interests in the Leeward Islands should monitor the progress of Jose," the National Hurricane Center said.
Forecasters are mostly concerned about the northeastern Caribbean, according to Michael Brennan of the hurricane center.
Islands under hurricane warning include Aguilla, Antigua, Barbuda, Puerto Rico, the US and British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Martin/St. Maarten, and St. Barts.
Irma's forecast track currently has it near or over Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Anguilla by early Wednesday, and the British and US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico in the afternoon.
The Dominican Republic issued a hurricane warning Tuesday that included coastal cities from Cabo Engaño to the northern border with Haiti.
Puerto Rico: Long lines
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló declared a state of emergency and has activated the National Guard.
For hours, people lined up outside hardware stores, hoping to get plywood, batteries and power generators. If Irma knocks out power, Puerto Ricans said it could take weeks or months before it is restored.
Last month, the director of Puerto Rico's power utility, Ricardo Ramos Rodríguez, said several factors have made the island's electric system "vulnerable and fragile," CNN affiliate WAPA reported.
One of those is the shortage of employees. Many workers recently retired or left their jobs for better prospects on the US mainland, Ramos Rodríguez said.
Evacuations set for Florida
It's too early to tell whether it will make landfall on the US mainland, but forecasts show it could churn toward Florida over the weekend.
Jimmy Brumbaugh packed up his family in their RV and left Astatula, Florida, for Georgia. As he headed out of town, he posted a picture showing a long line of cars, waiting to get gas.
"People are genuinely scared down here," he said. "... We are dead center in the state but I'm not taking any chances, I also don't want to put my family through the misery of riding out the storm. We've done it before and it's horrible."
In Eustis, northwest of Orlando, Pat Arnold and her husband took precautions in case Irma hit.
"My husband and I prepared for Irma by getting some cash out, fueling cars and filling gas cans with nonethanol gas (for use with our chainsaw if needed), ... and making sure we have enough batteries, canned food etc," she told CNN.
She posted a picture showing bare shelves at her local Publix.
From Miami Beach to Ocala, Florida residents braced for the storm, with some posting images of empty shelves at local grocery stores.
Miami-Dade County will start evacuating special-needs residents Wednesday, and may announce other evacuations soon, Mayor Carlos Gimenez said.
Schools and county offices will be closed on Thursday and Friday.
Monroe County, which includes the Florida Keys, said it will order visitors to evacuate by sunrise Wednesday, and residents should begin to evacuate 12 hours later.
The Supreme Court of Florida will close beginning Friday in preparation for the storm.
In Florida, supermarkets and other stores sold out of water and nonperishable food.
After declaring a state of emergency across Florida, Gov. Rick Scott said President Donald Trump had "offered the full resources of the federal government."
Scott also ordered 7,000 National Guard troops to report for duty by Friday morning.
"Learn your evacuation zone. Listen to your locals," he said. "This storm has the potential to devastate this state. You have to take this seriously."
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