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Hurricane Irma could hit category 5, but too early to trust forecast models

A satellite image of Hurricane Irma in the Atlantic Ocean Friday, Sept. 1, 2017.
A satellite image of Hurricane Irma in the Atlantic Ocean Friday, Sept. 1, 2017. NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER

Hurricane Irma weakened from sustained winds of 115 mph to 110 mph, a minor change that lowered its status from a category 3 major hurricane to a category 2 storm as of 11 a.m. Friday.

But there’s much concern over the path Irma will take because experts anticipate the hurricane to reach category 4 or 5 status. Hurricanes of that magnitude cause catastrophic damage, with sustained winds of 130 mph to more than 157 mph.

Despite its slight decline, Irma “is expected to move into a more favorable thermodynamic environment while remaining in low wind shear conditions, which should allow the hurricane to intensify,” the National Hurricane Center reported.

Ryan Maue, a WeatherBELL meteorologist, predicted Thursday morning that Irma is “likely on (it’s) way to Cat 5.”

Irma is well out to sea and creeping west-northwest at 13 mph as of Friday morning, but is expected to gradually move in the general direction of Caribbean by the middle of next week.

Experts say it will be several days before the potential for landfall in the U.S. becomes more clear. Latest forecast models show a variety of scenarios.

“After next Wednesday, some take the storm towards the Carolinas,” ABC11 meteorologist Don Schwenneker said in an update Friday. “Some keep it out to sea and into the Northern Atlantic. Some move the storm towards Florida. And a couple of models even take it into the Gulf.”

For that reason, Schwenneker said for now people should be wary of forecasters who talk up one model that shows a direct hit to the North Carolina coast.

“Please don’t be sucked in by someone saying they know where it will go,” he said.

Maue also said people shouldn’t look too far into the forecast models this early on.

“Ensembles are just one tool we have to help determine tropical cyclone tracks,” Maue said. “However, since many tracks are parabolas, it’s easy to have a large error in space with just a small deviation in time – and vice versa. We won’t know with enough confidence about U.S. impacts until Sunday or Monday.”

On Friday, Maue tweeted the latest European models, saying, “Good bet at a casino is an intense Hurricane Irma at Cat 4 or 5. But it’s still red or black on U.S. impacts. Hope it’s a ‘fish storm.’”