Keep an eye on Hurricane Irma. The storm grew quickly into a Category 5 hurricane on Tuesday, and forecast models show it could make landfall in Florida this weekend. While the exact track is uncertain, this is a big, powerful storm that could impact the entire state and mandatory evacuations start today in the Florida Keys. Around Tampa Bay, now is the time to get supplies, finalize plans and prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.
Irma continued its westward track Tuesday, approaching the Caribbean with 185 mph winds. A hurricane warning is in effect for Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and other locations, and Irma is expected to move over the northern Leeward Islands by early today. This is a major, dangerous storm that must be taken seriously.
The question for Florida is when Irma will turn northward. Several models show the storm making a sharp right turn south of Key West, heading north through the middle of the state. That track could change in the coming days as Irma crosses the Caribbean. It's important that Floridians use the next several days to prepare for whatever comes.
Gov. Rick Scott made the right move by acting pre-emptively Monday to declare an emergency in all 67 counties. That declaration, and the governor's order deploying 100 members of the Florida National Guard to areas across the state, will speed the delivery of aid and technical resources. The governor's office said all 7,000 Guard members will report to duty by Friday.
But now is the time for all Floridians to prepare. With tropical storm-force winds extending 160 miles from Irma's center, the impact could be felt across the breadth of the Sunshine State. Residents should use these days to stock up on water, nonperishable food, pet supplies, medicines, gasoline and cash. Learn your evacuation zones, and have a plan in place before the storm arrives. Models showing the hurricane moving up the spine of Florida make the decision whether to evacuate all the more confusing, as the storm could span the middle of the peninsula. Monroe County ordered a mandatory evacuation of the Florida Keys beginning today.
Floridians should not forget to secure their yards and to collect their insurance papers and other valuable documents. Residents may need to have these contacts at the ready. Most importantly, stay up on the latest news with Irma, have a plan for keeping in contact with family and friends and plan for being self-sufficient. Listen to the authorities and be responsible if the storm comes. These are the obligations we face living in Florida, and if Irma tests our state, the best defense we have is to be prepared.