10.25pm: Accuweather has supplied this new map (main picture) from 9.45pm. LINK for mobile users.
6.15pm UPDATE: Accuweather's latest Hurricane Irma tracking map (main picture) - LINK for mobile users
3.50pm UPDATE: The latest tracking map from Accuweather (main image) shows Hurricane Irma further south later in the week compared to yesterday's images.
By SANCHESKA DORSETT
Tribune Staff Reporter
HURRICANE Irma is expected to be a major category four or category five hurricane as it moves closer to The Bahamas, according to Accuweather meteorologist Evan Duffy, who said on the system’s current track the eye of Irma will likely “cut very close to New Providence” by Friday bringing with it “heavy rains, flooding and strong winds.”
In an interview with The Tribune on Sunday, Mr Duffy said Irma, currently a category three hurricane, poses an imminent risk to the entire Bahamas because the system is growing and is not expected to weaken before it moves into Bahamian waters.
Kevin Nugent, a meteorologist from Baron Weather, a US agency, said Bahamians should “prepare for the worst but hope for the best”.
“Over the past 24 hours, the models have come together in better agreement and are predicating a hit for The Bahamas,” Mr Nugent said.
“We are at the point now where Bahamians need to begin making preparations,” he added. “By late Friday, early Saturday, the Bahamas will experience the impact of this hurricane. However, there is still time and a shift in track could make the difference between a direct hit and The Bahamas being spared.
“The hurricane will need to be monitored very closely as model guidance has come into better agreement and has shifted the track much closer to The Bahamas over the past 24 hours. The official NHC (National Hurricane Centre) forecast extends to 7am Friday morning and at that time the hurricane is forecast to be a category four storm near the Turks and Caicos,” Mr Nugent added.
Irma has been fluctuating in intensity over the past few days, but is expected to strengthen to a category four hurricane with sustained winds of 130-156mph on its closest approach to the islands.
According to Accuweather, the exact path of Irma beyond the middle of the week remains uncertain and will depend on a variety of factors. However, Mr Duffy said in all but one of the possible scenarios, The Bahamas will be greatly impacted.
“If and when this storm goes to The Bahamas, it will have a significant impact because the system is growing,” the Accuweather official said. “It is already a category three and is not projected to weaken because there is not a lot of land mass between The Bahamas and this system. So unless this tracks close to the Dominican Republic, The Bahamas will experience significant rain, wind, storm surges, rough surf and rip currents.
“Honestly we are still pretty far out but the models are coming together. Around Monday we expect the storm to turn to the north and west. This track will put Antigua and Barbuda, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands in the path of the storm. “Everyone in that area should be paying attention. After that is when things get confusing we have some different tracks possible. The first track goes west and passes the Antilles and if that were to occur, there would be significant impact to the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southern Bahamas including Inagua, Crooked Island, Ragged Island and Andros,” Mr Duffy said.
“That has a low chance of happening. The other path means the system will move west northwest away from the Dominican Republic and directly over Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas as a major category three or four hurricane. That’s bad news because the track literally runs the entire Bahamas. The island will get a direct hit, this has a moderate chance of happening. In the other track, the storm will run along the eastern side of the Bahama Islands causing issues for Cat Island, Eleuthera and Abaco and the eye will cut very close to New Providence. This track also has a moderate chance of happening and will cause a lot of issues.
“Another scenario has the system turning north west after it leaves the Dominican Republic and then it will graze the Bahamas. However, the wind impact would still be high, there will be plenty of rain and wind but the worst would be avoided, this also has a moderate chance of happening. Lastly, the storm could stay north and then move east and go somewhere between Bermuda and miss the Bahamas completely but that has a low chance of happening. The Bahamas will probably start seeing rough surf as early as tomorrow (Monday) and things will start picking up on Wednesday for the Turks and Caicos Islands.”
Local meteorologist Orson Nixon said Bahamians should be preparing for the worst.
“It is still a little far off but based on the models we use, most of them have the centre of Irma passing through the entire island chain or east of the island chain,” Mr Nixon said.
“Bahamians should prepare, the entire island chain needs to be ready. We have a few days to make arrangements because even in the best scenario the Bahamas will get tropical storm force winds. Irma should be a category four or five by the time it comes to the Bahamas. It is small now, but it is expected to expand in the next 72 hours, this will be bad for us,” Mr Nixon said.
As the storm approaches, officials have warned businesses against price gouging while urging residents to begin hurricane preparations.