Hurricane Irma early Wednesday passing over Barbuda.
(University of Wisconsin, CIMSS)

(This post, originally posted Tuesday afternoon, was updated Wednesday afternoon with new imagery.)

Hurricane Irma is about as intense as storms get in the Atlantic Ocean. The powerhouse Category 5 storm packs winds of 185 mph — making it this year’s strongest storm on Earth so far.

The storm also ranks as one of the most powerful hurricanes ever observed in the Atlantic Ocean and bears close resemblance to the super typhoons that form in the western Pacific Ocean.

The National Hurricane Center described the storm’s appearance Tuesday morning as both “spectacular” and “extremely impressive.” Since then, through Wednesday afternoon, the storm has maintained its incredible intensity and presentation – sustaining winds of 180 miles per hour or more for longer than any hurricane on record in the Atlantic.

It has all of the textbook features of an extreme hurricane. The storm is almost perfectly symmetric with a clear eye. Towering thunderstorms wrap around the calm center, tilting outward with altitude — a phenomenon known as the “stadium effect.” And then orbiting the eye are small swirls known as meso-vortices.

Below are some of the most visually stunning views of the storm reaching such rare strength, from zoomed out to close-in perspectives: