Strong winds and outer rain bands from Hurricane Irma began lashing Florida’s southern tip Saturday morning as dire warnings predicted pounding gales, heavy rain and potentially deadly storm surge from the Category 4 storm.
Irma’s sustained winds weakened Saturday to 130 mph as the storm skittered along Cuba’s northern coast toward the United States, but it was expected to regain strength as it turned toward Florida later in the day, the National Hurricane Center said. Hurricane conditions were expected beginning Saturday night in the Florida Keys and across southern and central Florida.
Irma’s eye was due to strike part of the Florida Keys early Sunday morning before driving up the state’s southwestern coast toward Tampa Bay by Sunday afternoon and into the night, according to the hurricane center.
“(The core) is forecast right now to still go through the lower keys, not quite to Key West, and then on up to Naples, on up to Cape Coral, with a Category 4 wind of 140 mph,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.
Even as Irma aimed for Florida’s western coast, the state’s eastern coastline remained in severe danger from storm-surge flooding, forecasters warned.