At 11 a.m. Sunday, National Hurricane Center’s official forecast track map shows Irma onshore somewhere along the west coast of Florida Sunday as a Category 3-4 hurricane.
Photo courtesy of NOAA
At 8 a.m. Sunday, a graphic from National Hurricane Center shows the probability of tropical-storm force winds over the next five days.
Photo courtesy of NOAA
At 8 a.m. Sunday, NHC’s rainfall forecast shows possible rain amounts from Irma over the next five days.
Hurricane Irma’s track shifted a bit more to the west overnight. Still at Category 4 strength Sunday morning, Irma is expected to pass over or just off the coastline of Pinellas County starting sometime this evening.
Irma made landfall in Key West about 8 a.m.
The National Weather Service office in Ruskin says the current threat to life and property in Tampa Bay and the county is “extreme.”
Irma was located about 250 miles south-southeast of Tampa Bay at 6:25 a.m. At 8 a.m., the eye was about 20 miles east-southeast of Key West and about 110 miles south of Naples. Maximum sustained winds were 130 mph, which is a minimum Category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. Movement was north-northwest at 8 mph.
National Hurricane Center is not forecasting any strengthening before Irma arrives in Tampa Bay. Irma is expected to maintain its Category 4 status for the next 12 hours and weaken to a Category 3 with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph within 24 hours. Hurricane force winds extend outward up to 80 miles from the center and tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 220 miles.
The National Weather Service in Ruskin predicts that “equivalent” Category 2 hurricane force winds of 80-100 mph with gusts up to 125 mph will occur in Tampa Bay and Pinellas County beginning early Sunday evening, continuing through Monday afternoon. Tropical storm force winds are expected in the area by Sunday morning, continuing through Monday afternoon.
“Remain braced against the reasonable threat for major hurricane force winds greater than 110 mph of equivalent Category 3 intensity or higher,” NWS said Sunday morning. “Now is the time to urgently hide from the wind. Failure to adequately do so my result in serious injury, loss of life or immense human suffering.”
NHC also advises residents to remain sheltered until the hazardous weather passes and not to be fooled by the calm when the eye of the hurricane passes. Stay indoors. Be ready to go to the safest location in your home.
Structural damage to homes is possible with complete destruction of mobile homes. Large trees could be snapped or uprooted. Fences and signs could be blown over. Roads may become impassable due to debris. Bridges, causeways and access routes could become impassable.
The storm surge potential, which is the biggest threat in a hurricane, of 4-6 feet above ground is likely in surge prone areas, beginning early Sunday evening through early Monday evening. Residents in these areas should evacuate immediately.
Flooding and damage to buildings can be expected, especially near the coast. Sections of near-shore escape routes and secondary roads could be weakened or washed out. Major beach erosion with heavy surf, and strong and numerous rip currents is possible. Moderate damage to marinas, docks, boardwalks and piers is possible along with damage to small craft that may break away from moorings.
A flash flood watch is in effect with peak rainfall of 8-12 inches possible with locally higher amounts. Major flooding is possible. Residents in low-lying areas are urged to move to higher ground. Conditions remain somewhat favorable for tornadoes.
In addition, numerous power outages are likely, which could possibly last for days. Duke Energy has staged personnel around the state who are ready to respond. Water and sewer services may become unavailable. Residents should to fill as many containers with water as possible before Irma arrives for drinking, cleaning, flushing toilets, etc.
Pinellas County is under a mandatory Level A and Level B evacuation order, affecting about 260,000 people. Residents who live in Level A and B zones, all mobile home residents, regardless of zone, and special needs residents should vacate homes and businesses no later than 8 a.m. Sunday. Visit www.pinellascounty.org for more information.
As of Sunday morning, shelter space was available in 15 of the 16 available shelters. John Sexton Elementary is full. Nearby St. Petersburg High School and Lealman Innovation Academy are open. Those with pets should use Clearwater Fundamental Middle School. Bring a carrier, supplies and register ahead of time.
At a press briefing Saturday morning, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri urged people in evacuation zones to get out now.
“People need to go,” he said, adding that Irma was a “serious threat” to safety.
He said when conditions become hazardous all first responders will be taken off the streets and won’t be able to respond to calls for help until it is safe to do so.
Access to the county’s barrier island was shut down at 6 a.m. Sunday. The order applies to all individuals, businesses and includes all the islands from Dunedin Causeway to Tierra Verde. People will still be allowed to exit.
PSTA shut down bus service Saturday evening. Florida Highway Patrol shut down the Sunshine Skyway Bridge about 7 p.m. Saturday. Other bridges will close when sustained winds reach 40 mph. Call 511 or visit www.floridadisaster.org.
Residents in non-evacuation areas who are staying at home are advised to complete final preparations as soon as possible.