Just more than a week after a massive hurricane battered the Texas coast, forecasters are now watching another storm that's charging through the Caribbean and could wallop southern Florida later this week.
NOAA / Via nhc.noaa.gov
Hurricane Irma grew into a category 4 on Monday. According to the National Hurricane Center, the storm had maximum sustained winds of 130 mph and a hurricane watch was in effect for a number of islands at the eastern edge of the Caribbean including Antigua, Barbuda, and Montserrat.
"Preparations within the warning area should be rushed to completion," the hurricane center added.
Hurricane Irma prompted Florida Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency on Monday for every county.
NOAA / Via goes.noaa.gov
Scott's emergency declaration mentions that weather models predict Irma will "head into the Straits of Florida as a major hurricane," then "travel up the entire spine" of the state. The declaration also outlines an emergency response plan, including potential policies such as waiving fees on toll roads, activating the National Guard, and setting up shelters in public buildings.
On Twitter Monday, Scott also urged "all Floridians to remain vigilant and stay alert to local weather and news" and "to get prepared."
Right now, Hurricane Irma is several days away from Florida, and it's still too early to know exactly what will happen — but it could have a major impact on the East Coast.
NOAA / Via nhc.noaa.gov
The National Hurricane Center expects Irma to reach Puerto Rico by Wednesday afternoon, followed by the Dominican Republic a day later.
Irma could finally reach southern Florida, as well as central and western Cuba, by Saturday. Forecasters can't predict the exact trajectory and intensity the storm will have by the end of the week, so it could arrive in the US at a different location or time, or with a different intensity.
However, the hurricane center reported Monday that there is an "increasing chance of seeing some impacts from Irma in the Florida Peninsula and the Florida keys later this week and this weekend." Weather models also indicated that there was more than a 50% chance Irma would reach the Florida region as a category 4 or 5 storm, according to meteorologist Ryan Maue.
Preparations for Irma are now underway, even as the recovery from Harvey — a hurricane-turned-tropical-storm that flooded large swaths of the coast, including Houston — is still just getting underway.
People use boats to bring items out of homes in Houston Sunday.
Joe Raedle / Getty Images
In parts of the Caribbean, some schools and some businesses closed in anticipation of the storm, the Associated Press reported.
"We're looking at Irma as a very significant event," Ronald Jackson, executive director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, told the Associated Press.
In the US, Florida officials activated emergency management teams Monday and Floridians began stocking up on supplies, according to CBS Miami.
The Red Cross also stopped sending volunteers from the mid-Atlantic region to help with the recovery from Harvey in Texas, WNCN reported. The decision was made so that resources would be available if Irma hits Georgia, the Carolinas, or other parts of the East Coast.
The decision also highlights how storm recovery resources are already stretched thin in the US. Harvey made landfall as a category 4 hurricane near Rockport, Texas, on Aug. 25. It later weakened to a tropical storm, but nevertheless doused the Houston region with record-setting rainfall.
The rain flooded bayous, rivers, and neighborhoods, many of which remain underwater. Thousands of professional first responders and volunteers flocked to the region to help.
Now, even as many resources remain in place in Texas, observers are beginning to turn their attention to Florida and other eastern states, waiting to see what Irma will bring.