AccuWeather reports after blasting the northern Caribbean, dangerous Hurricane Irma will turn toward the United States, potentially bringing life-threatening impacts from Florida to the Carolinas beginning this weekend.
"This hurricane has the potential to be a major event for the East Coast," Evan Myers, AccuWeather senior meteorologist and chief operating officer, said. "It also has the potential to significantly strain FEMA and other governmental resources occurring so quickly on the heels of Harvey."
"Because Irma is likely to move up along the east coast of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, people from the Florida Keys all the way to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, should prepare to be ready to evacuate coastal areas, starting with South Florida now," Myers added.
The storm should be taken very seriously and preparations should be hurried to completion.
While Irma's track beyond the Caribbean is not set in stone, AccuWeather meteorologists anticipate the southern Atlantic Seaboard will experience significant and possibly devastating impacts from Irma.
Conditions to deteriorate in Florida as early as this weekend
Irma's anticipated track will bring tropical-storm- to hurricane-force conditions to South Florida as early as Saturday. Flooding rainfall and damaging winds are expected to increase from south to north across the Florida Peninsula over the weekend.
"If the center of Irma does pass near Miami and continues northward over eastern Florida, the impacts will be severe," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll said.
The most severe effects from the storm will extend outward about 50 miles from the storm's center. Tropical-storm-force conditions can extend over 150 miles from the storm's center.
People should not be near the east coast of Florida, according to Myers.
Those along the coast should heed all mandatory evacuations and strongly consider leaving if a voluntary evacuation is issued. This is true all the way up the southern Atlantic Seaboard toward North Carolina.
If the storm makes landfall in Florida, isolated tornadoes could be spawned north and east of Irma's center, threatening to bring further damage to some communities. Coastal areas would be inundated with storm surge.
Low-lying and poor drainage areas will be particularly susceptible to flooding from Irma's torrential rainfall.
How quickly Irma turns to the north after passing Cuba will determine whether the center of the storm makes landfall in southeastern Florida or passes between Florida and the Bahamas.
A large storm surge could inundate coastal areas even if the center of the storm stays offshore.
"Although Hurricane Matthew last year passed east of Jacksonville, they experienced flooding due to water pushing into the St. Johns River," Doll said. "The same thing could happen with Irma."
Irma may lose some of its strength by the time it approaches Florida due to interaction with nearby land. However, it will remain a powerful and dangerous hurricane.
"It is also possible that Irma doesn't make landfall over South Florida and heads into the eastern Gulf of Mexico, but this is an unlikely scenario at this point," Doll said.
People from Georgia to the Carolinas should brace for Irma's impacts early next week
Those from Georgia to the Carolinas will need to be on alert for direct impacts from Irma beginning as early as late Sunday and Monday. This includes preparing for power outages, flooding and major disruptions.
"A landfall across the Carolinas is certainly within the realm of possibilities," Doll said.
Should Irma make landfall along the Southeast coast, it would likely occur between Jacksonville, Florida, and Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, early next week. Isolated tornadoes could be spawned north and east of Irma's center.
Residents, visitors and government officials in these areas need to prepare now for the potential of destructive winds, flooding rainfall and a large storm surge.
Heavy rain is forecast to spread inland toward the southern Appalachians, potentially leading to extensive flooding due to the mountainous and hilly terrain. Damaging winds will become less of a concern the farther inland Irma moves. Some of Irma's rain may reach into the mid-Atlantic and Northeast toward midweek.
There is a low chance that Irma completely misses the United States.
"Stay tuned to local government information and AccuWeather.com for timing of the hurricane's progress, remember it is not too early to prepare to leave; pack bags, gas up your car and prepare your property now," Myers said.