Hurricane Irma to intensify over the Atlantic Ocean this weekend

Hurricane Irma, already a strong hurricane in the eastern Atlantic Ocean, is expected to resume intensifying this weekend, and may be a formidably intense hurricane when it nears the Leeward Islands next week. 

The center of Irma is located just over 1,600 miles east of the Leeward Islands and is moving west-northwest at 10 to 15 mph.

Irma's intensification has paused, for the time being, after intensifying from a tropical storm Wednesday to Category 3 hurricane Thursday in just 30 hours.

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Irma may soon kick off a cycle of reorganization called an eyewall replacement cycle, common to all strong hurricanes, during which a new eyewall forms and replaces the old. While this happens, the hurricane's intensity holds steady, then steps up as the new eyewall contracts inward.

The National Hurricane Center expects Irma to remain a powerful hurricane for several days but noted that fluctuations in strength, both up and down, are possible through early next week due to the aforementioned eyewall replacement cycles.

For the next five days, Irma will move westward, turn west-southwest, then west-northwest again on the south side of a ridge of high pressure called the Bermuda High, centered in the central Atlantic.

With wind shear remaining low, and increasing oceanic heat content lying ahead, Irma should intensify yet again this weekend, possibly to Category 4 or 5 status.

Leeward Islands Concern?

Irma is expected to reach the longitude of the Lesser Antilles (eastern Caribbean) around Wednesday, and could be a formidably intense hurricane at that time.

However, it is too soon to determine what parts of the Lesser Antilles, if any, will take a direct hit from Irma.

The possibilities range from a direct raking of many of the Leeward Islands to the hurricane passing far enough north to only deliver periphery impacts such as high surf, gusty winds and rainbands. 

For now, residents of the Lesser Antilles, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands should follow the progress of Irma closely.

A U.S. Threat?

It is far too soon to speculate on any potential U.S. threat from Irma.

Whether Irma ultimately strikes the U.S. at all will depend on the strength and expansiveness of the Bermuda-Azores high over the Atlantic Ocean, and the interplay with a southward dip in the jet stream. 

The range of solutions spans from a track safely east of the U.S. East Coast to a track into the Gulf of Mexico. 

If Irma would strike the U.S., and again, that is not by any means a certainty, that could happen as soon as next weekend, or possibly early the second week of September.

For now, all residents along the East Coast and Gulf Coast should monitor the progress of Irma. 

As UCAR scientist and FEMA task force lead Michael Lowry notes, storms that become hurricanes near the Cabo Verde Islands often don't make a U.S. landfall, but when they do, they can be noteworthy.

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Check back with weather.com for updates on Irma through the weekend for the very latest. We will be updating our coverage of Irma frequently based on the latest forecast guidance for its future track and intensity.

This is the first time the name Irma has been used for an Atlantic tropical storm or hurricane. Irma replaced the name Irene after it was retired for the damage it caused in the Bahamas and the U.S. during the 2011 hurricane season.

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