Monster Hurricane Irma packing fierce 185 winds, made landfall in the northeast Caribbean early Wednesday, slamming into Barbuda and Antigua as it headed for Puerto Rico with Florida in its sights. The eye of the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history passed over Barbuda around 1:47 a.m. NOAA and Air Force hurricane hunter aircraft data indicated Hurricane Irma had intensified into an extremely dangerous Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale with maximum winds of 175 mph (280 km/h) with higher gusts.
Irma was born off Cape Verde last week, before becoming the second major hurricane of the 2017 season. The National Weather Service said Puerto Rico had not seen a hurricane of Irma’s power since Hurricane San Felipe in 1928, which killed a total of 2,748 people in Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico and Florida. The latest track models show that Irma could then head towards Florida Keys and the southeast of Florida.
Irma’s eye is expected to pass about 80km from Puerto Rico, and forecasters say the storm will retain its power for at least the next five days. Irma’s peak sustained surface winds of 185 mph are the highest observed in any hurricane north of the Caribbean and east of Florida, topped only by Allen (1980) in the Caribbean (190 mph). Two hurricanes have notched 185-mph winds in the Caribbean: Gilbert (1988) and Wilma (2005). The Labor Day hurricane of 1935 hit the same peak winds in the Florida Straits.
Irma set another record late Wednesday afternoon: its central surface pressure dropped to 916 mb, as extrapolated from dropsonde data collected by Hurricane Hunters. This beats the previous Atlantic record outside of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, a 919 mb reading from a dropsonde with Hurricane Gloria (1985).
Irma’s central pressure at 2 pm EDT Tuesday, when the hurricane’s top winds first hit 185 mph, was 926 mb. (Source NOAA)