Hurricane Irma — which has set its dangerous sights upon Puerto Rico and Florida — has now officially reached Category 5 status. This upgrade arrives after several hours of anticipation over whether the storm would reach the highest ranking on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale, and CBS News now reports that the storm has clocked in with sustained winds of 175 mph (nearly a full 20 mph over the 156 mph threshold). As such, Irma has become the most powerful Atlantic hurricane since 2016’s Matthew, which reached maximum winds of 165 mph and caused $15.09 billion in damage.
Currently, Irma’s due to strike the Leeward Islands with Puerto Rico and several other Caribbean islands likely to see landfall on Tuesday. As for whether the storm will slam into the U.S. East Coast, meteorologists are keeping their eye on multiple computer models. Irma’s precise path remains uncertain, and it’s possible that the storm could pivot back out to sea without making stateside landfall. However, there’s only a short window left for that to happen, and the Weather Channel says that it’s growing increasingly likely that the storm’s northerly turn will place Florida in its path later this week.
Per meteorologist JD Rudd (out of Cleveland, Ohio), Irma is actually larger than the state of Ohio right now.
CBS News relays word from Caribbean authorities that Irma could churn up waves higher than 23 feet while dropping at least one foot of rain. This would prompt flash floods and landslide conditions, all of which caused U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp to issue a stern warning to residents: “This is not an opportunity to go outside and try to have fun with a hurricane. It’s not time to get on a surfboard.”
As such, Florida has officially declared a state of emergency for the storm that’s currently moving at 14 mph. The National Hurricane Center says Irma will remain a “major” hurricane throughout much of this week: “Some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or two, but Irma is forecast to remain a powerful Category 4 or 5 hurricane during the next couple of days.” And in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott is telling residents not to take any chances that the storm will weaken or turn elsewhere:
“In Florida, we always prepare for the worst and hope for the best, and while the exact path of Irma is not absolutely known at this time, we cannot afford to not be prepared.”
Scott also says that President Trump has vowed to devote “full resources of the federal government” to Florida while the state braces for impact. Whether or not Congress will come through for victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, however, is still up for debate.