Florida residents desperate for some good news as Hurricane Irma bore down on the state received a glimmer of hope Saturday when the National Weather Service announced that Irma’s brush with Cuba had weakened the storm.
Irma, which was packing winds of 155 mph before it sliced into Cuba, now has top winds of up to about 130 mph, the NWS said.
However, it also said that the storm might only have weakened temporarily, and that it could regain its punch as it crosses the warm waters between Cuba and the southern tip of Florida and hits the U.S. as a Category 4 hurricane.
***THIS IS AS REAL AS IT GETS***
***NOWHERE IN THE FLORIDA KEYS WILL BE SAFE***
***YOU STILL HAVE TIME TO EVACUATE***
— NWS Key West (@NWSKeyWest) September 8, 2017
Although the eye of the storm is expected to make landfall Sunday, high winds reached the Florida coast on Saturday.
“The storm is here,” Gov. Rick Scott said Saturday morning, saying that 25,000 people had already lost power.
Scott warned that the storm surge could reach 12 feet in some places.
“This will cover your house,” he said. “You will not survive all this storm surge.”
In a mixed message for Florida residents, forecasters changed their predictions of where the hurricane is likely to strike land, moving the most likely landfall area from the southeastern coast near Miami, where evacuation efforts had been focused for the past few days, to the west coat.
Naples and Fort Myers were under high alert, while Tampa, farther to the north, remained a possible target of Irma’s landfall.
National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said a direct hit into the Tampa region, which hasn’t experienced a major hurricane since 1921, is a concern.
He said storm surge is expected to be a severe problem.
WTSP meteorologist Grant Gilmore said Tampa is likely to face winds of up to 120 mph. He said the storm surge in Tampa Bay could be as high as nine feet in some areas.
Although current projections make it appear the southeast coast will be spared the highest winds and storm surge of Irma, flooding remains a danger.
“Rainfall across the Peninsula will average 10 to 15 inches with locally higher amounts which can lead to significant flooding issues,” said AccuWeather Meteorologist Alyson Hoegg.
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