MERIDIAN, Miss. (WTOK) - Irma made landfall along the Cuban archipelago last night as a strong category 4 hurricane, intensified to a category 5 hurricane, and now is a category 3 hurricane due to its close proximity to Cuba. Irma has been struggling to maintain its inner core this morning and early afternoon as much of its primary rain bands move over Cuba and are rained out before they reach the western side of the storm.
The center of Irma is currently forecast by the National Hurricane Center to move to westerly near the Cuban coastline for the rest of the day then begin the much talked about turn north as it reaches the edge of the Bermuda High that has been its primary steering current the last several days.
Once it reaches the edge of the high, which is expected this evening, there is a weakness in the steering currents that will allow Irma to feel the tug of the upper level low that is sitting over us currently. This will facilitate the northward turn and allow Irma to return over very warm waters in the Florida Straits and Florida Keys. The result could be a quick bout of rapid intensification with Irma returning to at least category 4 strength, as the official NHC forecast does.
Irma is expected to make landfall late Sunday night between Fort Myers and Tampa, Florida as a category 4 storm with winds of 140mph. From there, Irma will continue up the spine of the peninsula and begin to rapidly weaken as the eye moves northward over land. Irma is forecast to weaken to a tropical storm by the time it reaches southern Georgia on Monday and dissipate as either a remnant low or absorbed by the upper level low by Wednesday in North Mississippi or Tennessee.
Heavy rain, strong winds, storm surge, and isolated tornadoes will all occur in the peninsula of Florida with a tornado watch across South Florida including the Keys through tonight with other watches posted as Irma nears. With Irma now expected to make landfall on the western side of Florida, Naples, Fort Myers, Port Charlotte, Sarasota, and Tampa will likely have the greatest impacts. Eastern side cities like Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Melbourne will see less significant impacts but see an increase in storm surge from easterly winds coming into the center of Irma moving into the coastline. Coastal locations of Georgia will also see increased storm surge with the heavy rain, gusty winds, and tornado threat continuing into far eastern Tennessee.
Locally, some gusty winds and isolated showers with additional cloud cover will be our only concerns as the center of Irma moves to our east and north. We will be on the weaker side of the storm and under the upper level low steering Irma, so our impacts will remain minimal.
Storm Team 11 will provide two Facebook Live videos this afternoon and evening with additional updates: one around 4pm and another around 8pm. Our only newscast today will air after the Oklahoma vs. Ohio State football game on ABC, likely around 10pm. You can also track Irma anytime with our Hurricane Tracker on our free WTOK mobile app.