Hurricane Irma is expected to hit the US Virgin Islands Tuesday and mainland Thursday. The storm is currently a Category 5 hurricane and is expected to remain a Category 4 or 5 during the next days. Cruises and shipping interested in transiting those areas, are encouraged to reroute.
Reports from NOAA and U.S. Air Force Hurricane Hunter aircraft have found that the storm’s maximum wind speeds are 175 mph, Tuesday morning, and is expected to reach southern Florida and the Gulf of Mexico this weekend. The forecasts indicate Irma as an extremely dangerous category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale and it now ranks among the strongest hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.
As noted, some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or two, but Irma is forecast to remain a powerful category 4 or 5 hurricane during the next couple of days.
Several popular cruise destinations, including Antigua, Anguilla, Barbuda, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, are under a hurricane watch. The British Virgin Islands, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Maarten, St. Barthelemy, Guadeloupe, the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Vieques and Culebra are under a hurricane warning.
Ahead of the Irma, several cruise lines, such as Carnival, Royal Caribbean and MSC, are altering their routes towards Western Caribbean, to avoid the heavy storm, but operations are unaffected in other areas.
In addition, effective 8 p.m. Tuesday, the Coast Guard has set port condition ZULU for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgins Islands due to the possibility of sustained gale force winds greater than 39 mph from the Hurricane.
The US Coast Guard strongly urges the maritime community to remain vigilant and take the necessary precautions:
- Secure belongings: Owners of large boats are urged to move their vessels to inland marinas where they will be less vulnerable to breaking free of their moorings or to sustaining damage. Trailer-able boats should be pulled from the water and stored in a place that is not prone to flooding. Those who are leaving their boats in the water are reminded to remove EPIRBs and to secure life rings, lifejackets and small boats. These items, if not properly secured, can break free and require valuable search and rescue resources be diverted to ensure people are not in distress.
- Stay clear of beaches: Wave heights and currents typically increase before a storm makes landfall. Even the best swimmers can fall victim to the strong waves and rip currents caused by hurricanes. Swimmers should stay clear of beaches until local lifeguards and law enforcement officials say the water is safe.
- Be prepared: Area residents should be prepared by developing a family plan, creating a disaster supply kit, having a place to go, securing their home and having a plan for pets. Information can be found at the National Hurricane Center’s webpage.
- Stay informed: The public should monitor the progress and strength of the storm through local television, radio and Internet. Boaters can monitor its progress on VHF radio channel 16. Information can also be obtained on small craft advisories and warnings on VHF radio channel 16.