Hurricane Irma has been inching closer and closer to the continental United States before its expected landfall in Florida.
Hurricane Irma is currently over Cuba, after going over the island early Saturday morning, as reported by the National Hurricane Center.
With the window closing fast for anyone wanting to escape, Irma hurtled toward Florida with 125 mph winds Saturday on a shifting track that took it away from Miami and instead threatened the Tampa area with its first direct hit from a major hurricane in nearly a century.
“You need to leave — not tonight, not in an hour, right now,” Gov. Rick Scott warned residents in the evacuation zones ahead of the storm’s predicted arrival on Sunday morning.
“It is wider than our entire state and could cause major and life-threatening impacts on both coasts, coast to coast,” Gov. Rick said on Friday.
“For five days, we were told it was going to be on the east coast, and then 24 hours before it hits, we’re now told it’s coming up the west coast,” said Jeff Beerbohm, a 52-year-old entrepreneur in St. Petersburg. “As usual, the weatherman, I don’t know why they’re paid.”
Tampa has not been struck by a major hurricane since 1921, when its population was about 10,000, National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said. Now the area has around 3 million people.
With the new forecast, Pinellas County, home to St. Petersburg, ordered 260,000 people to leave.
Irma has left more than 20 people dead in its wake across the Caribbean, ravaging such resort islands as St. Martin, St. Barts, St. Thomas, Barbuda and Antigua.
At 1:50 a.m. E.T., the NHC’s Atlantic Operations Twitter said that Irma went over the Camaguey Archipelago of Cuba as a Category 5 hurricane. Around 7:30 a.m., the account said that the hurricane was “hitting hard” on the northern coast of Cuba, according to a Time.Com report.
Their forecast shows the storm reaching Florida on Sunday and making its way up Florida over Monday. When it does arrive in Florida, it’s expected to be an “extremely dangerous major hurricane” with “life-threatening wind impacts to much of the state regardless of the exact track of the center,” according to the NHC.
Forecasters expect Irma’s core to strike the Keys, southwestern Florida and the Tampa Bay region on Sunday, according to the Associated Press.
Heavy rain in the state is expected to last through Tuesday and a “life-threatening” storm surge is expected to last for 36 hours.
The National Hurricane Service is continuing to update their websites and Twitter accounts with new forecast and location information.
Irma, like Harvey before it, formed near the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa, and had a long journey across the Atlantic. That long journey gave it enough time to grow by picking up significant heat energy and intensity, without being broken apart by forces like wind shear or dry air.