Tuesday 11 p.m. update
RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN/AP) — The National Hurricane Center is calling Irma “potentially catastrophic” as the storm continued late Tuesday night to move west with winds at 185 mph.
Irma is the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, National Hurricane Center said.
Four other storms have had winds that strong in the overall Atlantic region, but they have been in the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico where the usually warmer waters fuel tropical cyclones.
Hurricane Allen hit 190 mph in 1980, while 2005’s Wilma, 1988’s Gilbert and a 1935 great Florida Key storm all had 185 mph winds.
Experts say Irma’s strength is a result of unusually warm water for that part of the Atlantic.
The latest track, issued at 11 p.m. Tuesday from the National Hurricane Center, indicates the storm could affect several Caribbean islands by the wee hours of Wednesday morning, then be near the Florida keys by Saturday night.
It is currently moving west at 15 mph. The storm has been churning westward and that motion, with a slight turn to the west northwest, is expected on Tuesday.
Hurricane Warnings have been now posted for Puerto Rico, Vieques, Culebra, and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, as well as Saint Martin, Saint Barthelemy, Saba, Saint Eustatius, Sint Maarten, Antigua, Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis.
A Hurricane Watch is in effect for Guadeloupe.
Up to 12 inches of rain and storm surge of 6 to 9 feet are possible in the warning area.
The National Hurricane Center said Irma’s hurricane-force winds extend 45 miles from the storm’s the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend out up to 140 miles.
A FEMA representative will be in Raleigh Tuesday to monitor and help plan for Irma.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott is ordering the suspension of road tolls across the state as Hurricane Irma continues its ominous move toward the region.
Scott says tolls will be suspended to keep traffic flowing as residents begin to evacuate coastal areas in the potential path of the dangerous Category 5 storm.
The governor adds that tolls will remain suspended “for the duration of the storm’s impacts to Florida.”
Several important Florida highways are toll roads including the Florida Turnpike, which runs from 60 miles north of Orlando all the way to Miami-Dade County.