Hurricane Irma seems likely to impact the eastern Caribbean Sea by early next week. (CIRA/RAMMB/NOAA)

This story has been updated.

Hurricane Irma is a beast of a storm, feeding on warm water as it churns west across the Atlantic Ocean. It seems likely to impact the Caribbean next week, but beyond that, this storm’s path is a question that will only be answered confidently with more time. The U.S. coast is certainly at risk, but unfortunately, details beyond that won’t become clear until next week.

There is good news for the storm-weary Texas coast, though: The potential for a new tropical storm has diminished since Thursday. Forecast models are now predicting just a short-lived disturbance in the Bay of Campeche — the southern Gulf of Mexico, west of the Yucatán Peninsula — around the middle of next week. That’s not to say the threat is over, but this is a spark of good news for relief efforts.

That being said, it looks like a cold front could be strong enough to push through Texas and Louisiana next week, which would in all likelihood be a rainmaker. Until then, the weather there should be mainly dry.


Beyond that, Hurricane Irma is the storm to watch. Though U.S. impacts are impossible to predict this early, the storm must be monitored as it moves west. In the short term, at least, it is not a threat to any land within the next five days.

In a span of 12 hours on Thursday, Irma rapidly intensified from a tropical storm to a 115-mph, Category 3 hurricane. In doing so, it became the season’s fourth hurricane and second major — Category 3 or stronger — hurricane. On Friday morning the storm was located 2,100 miles east of the Lesser Antilles and tracking west-northwest at 12 mph. Irma should maintain at least Category 2 intensity for the foreseeable future.

Even though it’s still six days from potentially reaching the Lesser Antilles — the islands on the far eastern border of the Caribbean Sea — locations farther west are watching this storm carefully given its strength. The problem is that nature isn’t precisely predictable this far in advance. The best we can do is watch forecast-model-based probabilities and trends, and caution against paying attention to the details of any single forecast, especially at such long lead times.


Ensemble-based track probabilities out to 10 days from the ECMWF model (top) and GFS model (bottom). Their deterministic runs are the red and green dashed lines, respectively. (B. Tang, UAlbany)

If you have been following these ensemble maps closely over the past few days, one trend that we’ve seen is that the European model is nudging northward at the longer forecast times, and coming into slightly better agreement with the U.S. GFS model, which has maintained that the storm will pass north of the Caribbean (and even the Bahamas) later next week. But on Friday morning, the European model forecast was still far south enough to impact the Antilles in the coming days.

Our message to the Caribbean, Bahamas, Gulf Coast and East Coast is to watch this storm carefully. Day by day we will see better forecasts, and uncertainty should decrease.

Overall, the 2017 hurricane season is running very close to average, which you can see in this chart. Irma will probably nudge this season upward later this weekend.


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