Hurricane Irma tore through St. Martin, an island in the Atlantic Ocean, on September 6.

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In the Path of a Storm

The southeastern U.S. braces for another major hurricane.

Less than two weeks after Hurricane Harvey devastated eastern Texas, another massive hurricane is churning toward the southeastern U.S. Early on Wednesday, Hurricane Irma slammed into the eastern Caribbean islands, in the Atlantic Ocean. As the storm continues to move across the ocean, people in South Florida are preparing for a possible direct hit. 

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Tropical Storm Irma's path as of Monday afternoon

Hurricanes are powerful storms that form over the ocean. A hurricane’s strength is rated from 1 to 5 based on the speed of its winds. When it first made landfall, Hurricane Irma was a category 5 storm—the strongest kind. In fact, Irma is one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded, with winds of 185 miles per hour. Most hurricanes’ winds die down after a short amount of time, but Irma has kept its 185-mile-per-hour winds for more than 24 hours—a record length of time.

The storm made landfall on Barbuda, a small island with about 1,800 people, early Wednesday morning. According to Barbuda’s prime minister, 95 percent of the island’s buildings were damaged. The storm continued to move west, past Puerto Rico, an island territory of the U.S. The heavy rains caused flooding there, and more than 1 million people lost power. At least seven people have died in the storm. 

It’s difficult to predict the exact path of a hurricane. But scientists say Irma could hit Florida this weekend and then move toward Georgia and South Carolina. 

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A man walks through a flooded street in the Dominican Republic after Hurricane Irma hit the Caribbean nation on September 7.

Hurricane Watch

If Irma does hit Florida, it would be the second major hurricane to strike the mainland U.S. in less than two weeks. It would come at a time when people in Texas, Louisiana, and other southeastern states have just begun to try to recover from Harvey. That storm was one of the most damaging hurricanes to ever to hit the U.S.

In addition to Irma, two other hurricanes have formed in the Atlantic Ocean—Hurricane Jose and Hurricane Katia. September is usually a busy month for hurricanes. That’s because it’s in the middle of hurricane season, which lasts from June through November. Still, scientists say it’s rare to have three hurricanes in the Atlantic at the same time.

Experts are debating whether global warming—the gradual rise in the Earth’s average temperature—can be blamed for the string of strong storms. Scientists caution that predicting hurricanes is a complex science, and that it’s hard to link any one storm to a warming climate. But they also say that a warming ocean and atmosphere will likely lead to stronger storms with more rain. 

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People in Miami, Florida, put up shutters at a theater to prepare for Hurricane Irma.

Preparing for Irma

People in southern Florida are busy preparing for Hurricane Irma. President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for Florida on Tuesday. Florida Governor Rick Scott activated state National Guard troops to help prepare for the storm. Officials there have also ordered more than 100,000 residents in South Florida to evacuate (move away from a dangerous area). Many more could soon have to flee their homes before the storm potentially hits.

“This is serious, and we cannot take chances,” Governor Scott said on Wednesday.  

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