Irma is moving across the Atlantic as a Category 2 hurricane

Hurricane Irma is intensifying as it makes its way across the Atlantic. It’s now a Category 2 storm, according to the National Hurricane Center

It’s too early to know whether the storm will make landfall in the Caribbean, Mexico, or the US. But Irma has firmly captured the attention of meteorologists as Harvey has become a tropical depression.

Irma has the potential to become a Category 4 or potentially Category 5 storm before reaching the Antilles Islands next week, according to meteorologists.

“It’s way too early to say for sure if Irma is going to have any impacts on the United States, but any time the forecast models are predicting a potentially strong hurricane headed northwest across the tropical Atlantic, I’d pay attention,” Phil Klotzbach, a meteorologist at Colorado State University who specialises in Atlantic hurricane forecasts, told Business Insider.

As of 5 a.m. Thursday, an analysis of Irma showed 70 mph winds, making it a tropical storm. But by 11 a.m., sustained wind speeds had jumped to almost 100 mph, with some higher gusts  — causing it to quickly become a Category 2 hurricane. 

 Projections for where Irma will go from here still vary greatly — if it turns north before reaching the Antilles, it could veer off into the Atlantic, away from the US.

But certain projections show that a more direct path towards land is possible.

A combination of conditions  — including a warm tropical Atlantic, weak wind sheer, and change from dry to wetter weather —  made it easy for Irma to pick up strength, according to Klotzbach. The storm could put us far ahead of the average accumulated cyclone energy (a measure of the energy of tropical cyclone systems) for this time of year, he said.

Both CSU and The Weather Company, the group behind the Weather Channel and Weather Underground, predicted an unusually active hurricane season this year. Irma is the fourth hurricane of 2017, but the average date for the fourth hurricane isn’t until September 21. The peak of the season, around September 10, is still to come.

Klotzbach said that 50% of the season’s cyclone energy usually occurs in September, meaning it’s likely that there are major hurricanes to come.

Big hurricanes are usually defined by their wind force, but as we saw with Harvey — which hit as a Category 4 storm but caused most of its damage because of the heavy rain that followed — the category number doesn’t necessarily give an accurate sense of potential devastation. 

By the middle of next week, forecasters will have a better idea of what to expect from Irma.

At the same time, meteorologists are also monitoring a growing disturbance in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico that could bring additional rainfall to the already flooded Texas and Louisiana coasts sometime early next week.

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