NGDIR News Section-- Hurricane Irma, a dangerous Category 5 storm, now has parts of Orlando and Central Florida in its forecast cone.
In its 11 p.m. advisory Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center has southern Orange County and other metro Orlando areas in the five-day forecast for the storm, which has maximum sustained winds at 185 mph with gusts up to 225 mph. Irma was moving west-northwest at 15 mph and was located about 50 miles east-southeast of Barbuda, the Hurricane Center said.
Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 50 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 175 miles.
Irma put the entire state of Florida on edge Tuesday as the daunting storm continued plowing west.
Irma is the most powerful storm to form in the Atlantic Ocean, according to the National Hurricane Center- the agency called it "potentially catastrophic."
At the state's emergency operations center in Tallahassee on Tuesday night, Gov. Rick Scott said President Donald Trump approved his request for a federal emergency declaration.
"It is incredibly important that all Floridians pay attention to this incredibly dangerous storm," Scott said. "Do not sit and wait to prepare. Prepare now."
Scott suspended tolls on all Florida roads starting 5 p.m. Tuesday to allow for easy evacuations- though forecasters still couldn't pinpoint precisely what track the storm will take. It's possible the beast of a storm could strengthen even more as it nears the eastern-most Caribbean islands. Forecasters say the storm has continued to move closer to Florida, and there is an "increasing chance" that it will impact the state.
Central Florida could start feeling tropical storm wind impacts from the storm as early as Saturday morning, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Floridians seem to be taking the storm seriously, as many store shelves were cleared out of water. Sandbag locations and shelter openings were expected to be announced in coming days.
"In Florida, we always prepare for the worst and hope for the best," Scott said, "and while the exact path of Irma is not absolutely known at this time, we cannot afford to not be prepared."
City officials from Orlando said they are monitoring the storm and "are continuing to take precautionary measures for any potential impacts from Hurricane Irma."
Officials in Monroe County, home to the Florida Keys, ordered an mandatory evacuation for tourists Wednesday morning and for residents starting at 7 p.m. . Irma poses the greatest danger to South Florida from Friday night through Monday, with tropical-force winds possible Friday night, according to the National Weather Service. Under a mandatory evacuation order, no one is forced by police or other government agencies to leave, but anyone who stays should not expect to be rescued if they are in danger, officials said. The island chain only has one highway connecting it to the mainland.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez urged tourists to cut their vacations short.
"The potential is too great for us not to take action right now," Gimenez said.
Trump's approval frees up federal funding to help the state defend itself against the huge storm. Among possible emergency measures would be shoring up beach dunes, building emergency berms and planning for potential evacuations, according to a news release from the governor's office.
"Our state emergency management officials are working with our federal and local partners to prepare for any potential impacts from this dangerous storm," Scott said. "And it is crucial that we have access to every available resource to protect our families and communities."
Scott activated the Florida Air and Army National Guard on Tuesday morning, with 100 members called up immediately and all 7,000 members told to report for duty Friday morning. The American Red Cross established a disaster relief operation from Orlando, Scott said.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Jose has formed in the Atlantic and a tropical depression quickly formed in the Gulf of Mexico. It's still too soon to know what impact they might have on Florida.
At Orlando International Airport, officials were discussing emergency plans and preparing for the storm, such as removing equipment off the runways.
"There's no question we're monitoring the storm," said airport spokeswoman Carolyn Fennell.
Matt Bragaw, a forecaster at the National Weather Service in Melbourne, said residents in Central Florida still have time to get ready.
"Time is definitely on our side," he said. "It's definitely daunting, but it's times like this where being calm and collected are a necessity."
Bragaw urged residents to get the essentials ready, including water, canned food and medication.
"This is definitely a serious situation for everyone in the Florida peninsula," he said. "If [the storm] steers east or west, we'll still feel some impacts."
According to the Saffir-Simpson scale, a Category 5 hurricane has maximum sustained winds of at least 157 mph. As of 11 p.m., Irma was about 50 miles east of Antigua and was moving west-northwest at 15 mph.
A hurricane warning is in effect for, among others, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Some areas of the Caribbean are still under a hurricane watch, tropical storm warning or tropical storm watch.
The hurricane center typically issues a warning about 36 hours before winds reaching tropical-storm force are expected to arrive.
Irma is expected to continue its westward movement but is expected to turn to the west-northwest overnight, according to the hurricane center. Irma's core is expected to reach close to or over the northern Leeward Islands early Wednesday.
The hurricane's intensity is expected to fluctuate over the next 48 hours, but Irma is expected to remain a strong Category 4 or 5 storm, the hurricane center said.
By Orlando Sentinel