Hurricane Irma is intensifying as it makes its way across the Atlantic. It’s now a major Category 3 storm, according to the National Hurricane Center.
It’s too early to know whether the storm will make landfall in the Caribbean, Mexico, or the US, though some models suggest it could head toward the Eastern seaboard or Gulf of Mexico.
Irma has captured the attention of meteorologists, since it has the potential to become a Category 4 or even a Category 5 storm before reaching the Antilles next week.
“It’s way too early to say for sure if Irma is going to have any impacts on the United States, but anytime the forecast models are predicting a potentially strong hurricane headed northwest across the tropical Atlantic, I’d pay attention,” Phil Klotzbach, a meteorologist at Colorado State University who specializes in Atlantic hurricane forecasts, told Business Insider.
An analysis of Irma early Thursday morning showed 70 mph winds, making it a tropical storm. But by 11 a.m., sustained wind speeds had jumped to almost 100 mph with some higher gusts, causing it to become a Category 2 hurricane. By 4:30 p.m., Irma had sustained winds at 115 mph, making it the season’s second major hurricane — a term used for storms that reach Category 3 storms or above.
Michael Ventrice, a meteorological scientist at The Weather Company (the group behind the Weather Channel and Weather Underground) told Business Insider that “it could be the strongest hurricane of the year.”
Projections for where Irma will go from here vary greatly — if it turns north, it could veer off into the Atlantic, away from the US.
But certain projections show that a more direct path toward land is possible. A few models suggest Irma could head towards the East Coast. But Ventrice said that “some of the better performing models that are correctly handling [Irma’s] initial formation are more favorable towards the Gulf of Mexico” — the region that is still suffering from Harvey.