NASA's International Space Station feed caught the enormous scope of Irma from space Wednesday, September 6.
NASA's International Space Station feed caught the enormous scope of Irma from space Wednesday, September 6.

South Florida Under Hurricane, Storm Surge Watch as Cat 5 Irma Approaches UPDATED

Update 10 a.m.: A hurricane watch and a storm surge has now been issued for all of South Florida, from the Jupiter Inlet all the way down through the Florida Keys.

Hurricane Irma is gigantic. And it's coming to South Florida. As of 8 a.m. today, the only real debate among forecasters is how strong the storm will remain when it arrives in Miami this weekend and whether its über-destructive eye wall makes a direct hit on our urban corridor and the 6 million souls who live there.

Hurricane Irma's track has barely deviated in NOAA's latest update this morning, with the center of the storm's probability cone still centered smack in the middle of the Magic City. Irma is churning in the open sea about 110 miles north of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, and it's still packing an incredible punch: Sustained winds of 180 mph and a central pressure of 921 mb.

"The bottom line is that everyone in southeast Florida — from the Keys through Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach County — needs to prepare as if they knew Hurricane Andrew were coming," meteorologist Bryan Norcross wrote in his Thursday-morning update on the storm. "This is a greater hurricane threat to Florida than Andrew because it is so much bigger and will travel the length of the state."

South Florida Under Hurricane, Storm Surge Watch as Cat 5 Irma Approaches UPDATED (2)
via NOAA Hurricane Center

As of 8 a.m., NOAA's official hurricane warnings are limited to parts of the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and the Bahamas, and only eastern Cuba is under a hurricane watch. But a watch — which means tropical storm conditions are likely within 48 hours — is headed to Miami very soon.

"A Hurricane Watch will likely be issued later this morning for portions of southern Florida and the Florida Keys," NOAA writes in its latest dispatch.

Yes, uncertainty remains about the exact path of the storm, which is still three days shy of making direct landfall in Florida, but Miami will certainly feel the monstrous system's effects sooner than that, probably as early as tomorrow.

Many of the latest models still have the storm's eye staying just off the coast — but there's been no new eastward trend in the modeling since yesterday, meaning there's still a very good chance the heart of the storm will pass right over the city.

South Florida Under Hurricane, Storm Surge Watch as Cat 5 Irma Approaches UPDATED (3)
via NOAA Hurricane Center

"It is possible that the worst of the storm could miss to the east, but we can’t bet on it, and the odds do not favor that happening at this point," Norcross writes this morning.  And the truth is that Irma is such a huge storm that even a near miss from the eyewall would still mean devastating winds and storm surges across nearly all of southern Florida.

So far, evacuation orders have been issued for the Florida Keys, Miami Beach, and the low-lying Zones A and B on mainland Miami-Dade. (Remember, you can and should find your evacuation zone from Miami-Dade County to see whether you should consider leaving.)

At this point, leaving South Florida is also a dicey proposition, though. Gas stations have been raided across the region, and highways as far north as Jacksonville are already jammed with fleeing residents:

Irma is still plowing past Puerto Rico, the latest island to face devastating winds and rain from the Cat 5 beast. So far, authorities across the Caribbean have confirmed at least ten deaths and dozens of injuries; the small islands of Anguilla, Saint Martin and Saint Barts took almost direct hits from the storm, and the entire island of Barbuda was flattened, with the prime minister describing the damage — which left roughly 60 percent of residents homeless — as "total carnage."

Photos and videos across the region show eye-opening storm surge and building damage in the wake of 200-mile-per hour gusts.

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