Faster-moving Hurricane Irma weakens to Category 3

Hurricane Irma is moving faster with slower wind speeds and should make landfall in Naples in a few hours.

In the 2 p.m. advisory, National Hurricane forecasters said the storm is now moving north at a faster pace —12 mph rather than an earlier rate of 9 mph — and maximum sustained winds dropped to 120 mph.

Predictions show Irma moving north-northwest even faster later today, sending the eye of the hurricane ashore later this evening, near Naples. Forecasters expect the storm to slow rapidly once it is over land and wear itself out over the southeastern U.S. in the next few days.

The storm’s center was only 30 miles from Naples and on a direct path to hit it. Naples hasn’t been hit by a hurricane since 1921.

Deputy National Hurricane Center Director Mark DeMaria said even before Naples gets the expected 10-15 foot surge, Irma’s massive core has sucked four feet of water from the beach.

DeMaria called the ocean subsiding “ominous” and said the water is “going to come roaring back.”

“The greatest hazard at this point is the storm surge,” he said.

He added that the storm “is really closing in on Naples. It’s life-threatening and people need to stay where they are.”

In Miami-Dade and Broward, DeMaria said once Irma’s eye goes north of Miami-Dade, the winds will turn to the southwest and eventually subside.

Then, the storm will head toward Sarasota and Tampa, which can expect a 5 to 8 foot storm surge.

A wobble earlier in the day sent bands of stronger winds, with gusts reaching 100 mph, into Miami-Dade County. Now those winds are reaching into Broward, toppling trees and power lines.

In Miami-Dade, Irma’s fierce winds bent a construction crane in half, tore a roof off a gas station and left streets throughout the county littered with felled trees and palm fronds. The waters took their toll on Miami Beach and downtown Miami, leaving some areas in Brickell with waist-deep flooding.

In Hialeah, Irma knocked out power at the regional sewage pump station. City officials asked residents to limit flushing and be aware sewage could back up into their homes.

Hurricane Irma’s slight wobble to the right was not unexpected, DeMaria said Sunday afternoon.

The wobble, which keeps the eye of massive Irma within 100 miles of Miami-Dade County, means the high sustained tropical storm winds and hurricane gusts that have rocked southeastern Florida will continue into the evening.

DeMaria said the National Hurricane Center on the west campus of Florida International University, has received several gusts close to or over 100 mph.

Tropical force winds should subside around 10 p.m., after which Florida Power & Light can begin restoring power to the hundreds of thousands without it in South Florida.

If the powerful and large storm continues on its predicted tract, DeMaria said, it would mean by the time Irma leaves Florida, all of the state will have experienced strong tropical storm or hurricane winds.

The south to north scenario along a coastline that Irma seems to be taking has long been seen as the most problematic for Floridians because of the few places it leaves for residents to flee from the storm.

In Irma’s case, traveling along the west coast, Southeast Florida gets the storm’s “strong side,” DeMaria said.

If the storm makes landfall in Naples and moves a little inland, DeMaria said to look for it to weaken over land, where conditions for intensifying are not as conducive as over the water.

Irma made landfall at Cudjoe Key just after 9 a.m. Sunday. Gov. Rick Scott requested a major disaster declaration from President Donald Trump “to help bring important federal resources and aid to Florida” once Irma passes, he said.

With Irma’s eye beyond the Florida Keys, officials are starting to inspect the damage there. There are widespread water and power outages, and the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authorities issued a precautionary boil water notice.