Columbia, SC (WLTX) - Hurricane Irma's forecast track shifted further west Monday, meaning it's less likely that the U.S. won't see at least some impact from the storm, but where remains very uncertain.
As of the 11 a.m. Monday advisory from the National Hurricane Center, Irma had maximum sustained winds of 120 miles an hour, making it a powerful Category 3 hurricane. The storm was moving towards the west-southwest at 14 mph. The storm was about 560 miles east of the Leeward Islands.
Additional strengthening is expected over the next several days, and it could turn into a Category 4 hurricane, roughly the same intensity as Harvey was before it made landfall in Texas late last month.
Over the last day, the track has shifted, as we mentioned. What that means is when you look on it at a map, it actually has the path further south than what we were seeing on Sunday. If that track holds up, Irma would track just north over the islands of Puerto Rico and Hispanola over the next several days, ending up just off the northern coast of Cuba by Saturday. Landfall there now may be a possibility.
Confidence is growing in that track. Where it goes next is still uncertain. Some longer range models have it moving into the Gulf, others have it going into Florida, while others have it moving north up the coast of the eastern U.S.
Unfortunately, what is now far less likely is any possibility that the storm will curve out to sea. Almost none of the computer possibilities show that.
Hurricane hunter aircraft have begun routine flights into the storm, and the data that's expected by the end of Monday may give a little extra clarity. With the shifts that have already occurred, it's a safe bet they will shift again.
While it's too soon to know exactly what impact it will have hear, the National Hurricane Center is stressing preparation. "Everyone in hurricane-prone areas should ensure that they have their hurricane plan in place, as we are now near the peak of the season."