ORLANDO, Fla. - The National Hurricane Center forecasts that the core of Hurricane Irma will likely chug directly for the highly populated Tampa-St. Petersburg region after it gets through raking the Keys, but the storm is so massive all of Florida will be feeling the Category 4 hurricane's fury.
The center of the storm was just off Key West Sunday morning.
The latest forecast of Irma's eye -- which still can change -- keeps the nearly 400-mile wide (640-kilometer) storm in the water, barely off the coast of southwestern Florida's Fort Myers and Naples.
But that also puts that region in the strongest northeast quadrant of the storm, where storm surge, wind, rain and tornado threats are highest.
And a few miles wiggle could bring Irma's eye -- which has measured 30 miles wide (48 kilometers) -- inland.
The storm is moving slowly, about 8 mph (13 kilometers per hour), so its eye is likely to hit the Tampa region around 2 a.m. Monday, but damaging winds, storm, surge, rain and tornadoes will reach the area long before then.
More than 1 million customers lost power in Florida as of 9:30 a.m. Sunday, officials said.
The first bands of hurricane-force wind gusts started pounding the Keys just before midnight. The weather service said the Key West station recorded a 79 mph wind gust at 1 a.m.
"Whoa... Just recorded a 69 knot gust here at the office in Key West!," the NWS tweeted. "That's 79 mph!!! Again, please, please shelter in place, inside!"
[Video below: Hurricane force winds pound Key West | Keys resident rides out storm in Brevard]
Hurricane Irma started to spin up funnel clouds and at least one tornado, leading to warnings for parts of South Florida.
The National Weather Service said Saturday evening that a tornado had touched the ground in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Oakland Park. It wasn't immediately clear how much damage was caused.
As Sunday warms up, more tornadoes could form, meteorologists warned. Tornado warnings were issued in Brevard County early Sunday, although there were no immediate reports of serious damage.
Meanwhile, all Central Florida counties were under hurricane warnings until further notice.
Orlando was out of the cone of uncertainty in the latest track by the Weather Service, but other western Central Florida counties remained within the path.
"Between about midnight and 3 a.m. Monday Central Florida will experience the roughest conditions. Winds won’t die down until late Monday," Sorrells said.
Saturday morning's cone update showed the center of Irma riding north just off the Gulf Coast, which could mean the system will face a slower weakening process as it tracks into Tampa by 2 a.m. Monday.
#Irma, seen here in this #GOES16 geocolor loop from this afternoon, is now 125 mi. SE of Key West. Latest info @ https://t.co/cSGOfrM0lG pic.twitter.com/QwLqwnYnnD — NOAA Satellites (@NOAASatellites) September 9, 2017
State officials on Friday warned more than 5 million people, roughly 25 percent of the Florida population, that time was running out to evacuate ahead of the deadly hurricane as it followed a path that could take it from one end of the state to the other.
"This is a storm that will kill you if you don't get out of the way," National Hurricane Center meteorologist Dennis Feltgen said. "Everybody's going to feel this one."
Gov. Rick Scott urged Floridians to be "patient" and not quickly rush back to their homes once Irma passes. He said the massive storm is likely to cause widespread damage and that people should stay away until they are told by local officials that they can return.
"It's not a question of whether Florida is going to be impacted, it's a question of how bad Florida is going to be impacted," Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long said.
Though the core has the most power, Irma is huge. Winds of at least tropical storm force covered 70,000 square miles, which is just larger than the land area of Florida.
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