Irma Arrives; back to Cat 4 strength

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Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida around 9 a.m. at Cudjoe Key.  The hurricane strengthened again as its northernmost eyewall reached the lower Florida Keys around 7 this morning.  The eyewall is the band of clouds surrounding the center of the storm.  It comes with very intense winds and torrential rain.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami reported that at 5 a.m. Irma had sustained winds of 130 mph and is now moving northwest at 8 mph.

For now, the storm’s northwest track may mean less damage for Tampa, and Miami could also be spared the direct head-on hit Florida has prepared for.  What’s good news for Tampa, though, could be bad news for St. Pete, which now seems to be in danger of a direct hit.

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If the expected storm surge happens during high tide, the Tampa Bay area could experience water levels of 5 to 8 feet.  Storm surge as high as 15 feet has been forecast.

Jamie Rhome, head of the hurricane center’s storm surge unit, said the storm surge “is going to sneak up on people.” Hopefully no one is surprised by what may be coming and everyone is prepared.

More than 650,000 people in the Miami area have no power.  More than a million people across the state are without power.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott had warned residents in the state’s evacuation zones Saturday that “this is your last chance to make a good decision.”  Thanks in large part to the governor’s persistence and the insistent tone of his warnings, the largest evacuation in American history has probably Almost 6 million people left the southern part of the state.

Irma became the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic when its peak wind speeds reached 185 mph last week.  It will probably be one of the most devastating hurricanes ever to hit the state, and inflict damage on a scale not seen in the state in as many as 50 years.

Hurricane Andrew smashed into suburban Miami in 1992 with winds topping 165 mph.  Damage totaled $26 billion, and at least 40 people died.