Tropical Storm Irma rapidly intensified on Thursday morning, becoming a category two hurricane as it moved across the eastern Atlantic Ocean, forecasters said. Further strengthening is likely as it moves closer to the Caribbean.
Irma emerged as a tropical wave near the coast of western Africa on Sunday and slowly became more organized over the next few days. It reached tropical storm-status on Wednesday and quickly intensified on Thursday as its maximum sustained winds reached 100 miles (155 kilometers) per hour.
As of 11 a.m. ET, the center of Irma was located about 650 miles (1,050 kilometers) west of the Cabo Verde Islands, or 1,845 miles (2,975 kilometers) east of the Leeward Islands. The storm is moving towards the northwest and could potentially reach the Caribbean next week.
Eric Blake, a hurricane specialist at the U.S. National Hurricane Center, said Irma strengthened more rapidly than forecast because the system moved slower while staying somewhat south of its predicted path, allowing it to stay over warmer ocean temperatures.
Irma is expected to move over cooler waters on Friday which should limit its strengthening, but the hurricane will reach warmer waters again later this week. “This should promote further strengthening of Irma, and the NHC forecast shows an extremely dangerous category 4 hurricane next week,” Blake explained.
The current forecast from the National Hurricane Center shows Irma could approach the Lesser Antilles on Tuesday as a powerful category four hurricane, but the forecast remains uncertain and subject to change. Some weather models suggest Irma could miss the Caribbean altogether.
It’s not yet known whether Irma will affect the United States.
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