Sunday 24 September 2017

Hurricane Irma shifts direction as it closes in on Florida

In this geocolor GOES-16 satellite image taken Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, at 18:30 UTC (2:30 p.m. EDT), the eye of Hurricane Irma moves northwest just off the coast of Cuba and south of Florida. The National Hurricane Center says it's looking more likely that the eye of powerful Hurricane Irma will strike the Florida Keys starting Sunday. (NOAA via AP)
In this geocolor GOES-16 satellite image taken Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, at 18:30 UTC (2:30 p.m. EDT), the eye of Hurricane Irma moves northwest just off the coast of Cuba and south of Florida. The National Hurricane Center says it's looking more likely that the eye of powerful Hurricane Irma will strike the Florida Keys starting Sunday. (NOAA via AP)
Waves crash against the seafront boulevard El Malecon ahead of the passing of Hurricane Irma, in Havana, Cuba September 9, 2017.
Waves crash against the seafront boulevard El Malecon as Hurricane Irma turns toward the Florida Keys on Saturday, in Havana, Cuba September 9, 2017.
People take shelter at Key West High School in Key West, Florida, U.S. as Hurricane Irma approaches, in this September 9, 2017 still image taken from social media.
People take shelter at Key West High School in Key West, Florida, U.S. as Hurricane Irma approaches, in this September 9, 2017 still image taken from social media.
Strong winds and choppy sea are seen in Key Largo, Florida, U.S. as Hurricane Irma approaches, in this September 9, 2017 still image taken from social media video.
A police car patrols the beach in anticipation for Hurricane Irma, in Hollywood, Fla., Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)
Storm clouds associated with the outer bands of Hurricane Irma shroud the downtown skyline Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. Several parts of the Tampa Bay area are under a mandatory evacuation order for the approaching storm. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Dark clouds are seen over Miami's skyline before the arrival of Hurricane Irma to south Florida, U.S. September 9, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Hurricane Irma is closing in on the Florida Keys with top winds of 120mph as forecasters monitored a crucial shift in its trajectory that could keep its ferocious eye off the state's south-west coast and over warm gulf water.

Tens of thousands of people huddling in shelters watched for updates as the storm swung to the west, now potentially sparing Tampa as well Miami the catastrophic head-on blow forecasters had been warning about.

But those few miles meant St Petersburg could get a direct hit, rather than its more populous twin across Tampa Bay.

The leading edge of the immense storm bent palm trees and spit rain across South Florida, knocking out power to more than 170,000 homes and businesses, as the eye approached Key West.

People take shelter at Key West High School in Key West, Florida, U.S. as Hurricane Irma approaches, in this September 9, 2017 still image taken from social media.
People take shelter at Key West High School in Key West, Florida, U.S. as Hurricane Irma approaches, in this September 9, 2017 still image taken from social media.

If the centre of the storm keeps moving over warm Gulf of Mexico water, it may regain more strength before making landfall again.

St Petersburg, like Tampa, has not taken a head-on blow from a major hurricane in nearly a century.

Clearwater would be next, and then the storm would finally go inland north west of Ocala.

Irma currently has top sustained winds of 120mph and is moving northwards at about 6mph.

More than 170,000 homes and businesses in Florida have lost power and Florida Power and Light said more than half of those shutdowns were in the Miami-Dade area, where about 600,000 people have been ordered to evacuate.

The company has said it expects millions of people to lose power, with some areas experiencing prolonged outages.

The company said it has assembled the largest pre-storm workforce in US history, with more than 16,000 people ready to respond.

A police car patrols the beach in anticipation for Hurricane Irma, in Hollywood, Fla., Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)
A police car patrols the beach in anticipation for Hurricane Irma, in Hollywood, Fla., Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)

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