Irma Update: Keys in Trouble

Here’s a quick update to my post from two nights ago, noting a slight westward shift in the NHC-predicted central track of Hurricane Irma — but still well within the “cone” from that post. NHC has done a marvelous job of forecasting this storm. Hurricane warnings still wrap around the peninsula and across the Keys and Lake Okeechobee. All the Florida Peninsula still will feel important impacts in terms of high wind, heavy rain, at least a few tornadoes, and in the core region of Irma through the Keys, and now as it appears, the southwest coast, destruction from wind. The Keys are most certain for extreme impacts and look to be in serious trouble, especially middle-lower areas that could take wind and surge abuse around an eyewall region that will be strengthening, while recovering over very warm Straits water, after the storm’s interaction with the north coast of Cuba.

Still, wind damage is possible over a large area of Florida. Inland and even in South Florida, it will be unsafe to venture outside during the heaviest parts. Here is the Saturday morning condensed map:

This has happened before (namely Labor Day 1935, Donna-1960), and will again…but I was hoping not to see it for as long as possible. The long-dreaded time of reckoning for the Florida Keys is almost upon us. Forget the category. It’s looking more and more certain now that the eyewall of Irma will cross directly, sometime during Sunday’s early morning hours. Because Irma is so large, all the islands will be intensely affected.Devastation is imminent in the Keys. After Sunday those islands I love won’t be the same again, and as with other large hurricanes of this strength, recovery will take years. Water and wind will render much of the area unrecognizable and large parts at least temporarily uninhabitable, especially in the lower to middle Keys.

I hope everybody still in the Keys after this afternoon (and only a very few should be!) is in a sturdy concrete structure at least on the second story, with access to windowless interior rooms, and enough provisions to survive over a week on their own without power and running water. [Both water and electricity arrive only in fragile conduits from the mainland.] The staff of the Key West NWS office is secure in their engineered concrete facility, situated on the island’s highest spot.US-1 will be impassible in places for days due to debris and water, and maybe longer if even one of the dozens of bridges fails in storm surge, or a section of the road washes out.

The map above will get stale within a few hours from this writing. As always, go straight to the National Hurricane Center for the latest forecast information.

It’s a safe bet that Irma will join Harvey as a retired hurricane name. Please keep Harvey’s victims in your prayers as you do the folks of Florida for Irma; long recovery is in store in parts of both swaths, and some of the same charitable organizations will be serving both, in need of our contributions.


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