Irma packing 185 mph winds as it gets closer to Leeward Islands, heading to Florida

The Leeward Islands were in for a rough night as Hurricane Irma — with its ferocious 185 mph winds — took a turn and was headed Tuesday night toward Antigua and Barbuda, with its sights set for Puerto Rico by late Wednesday.

Cuba and South Florida were still in Irma’s projected path into the weekend.

As of the 11 p.m. National Hurricane Center advisory, the catastrophic Category 5 storm, which is expected to bring strong storm surges and up to 20 inches of rain in some places, was “getting very close to the northern Leeward Islands.” Besides Antigua and Barbuda, those islands include Anguilla, Guadeloupe, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis.

The forecast has the dangerous core of Irma pummeling the island chain Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning, then moving over the U.S. and British Virgin Islands Wednesday. By late Wednesday, Irma is expected to pass the northern coast of Puerto Rico. From there, it’s expected to hit the northern coast of Haiti and the Dominican Republic before heading to Cuba.

In the last few hours, the storm got a little smaller, with winds extending outward of 50 miles from the center.

The monster storm — considered the Atlantic’s most powerful hurricane ever outside the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean — was located about 50 miles east northeast of Antigua and about 50 miles east southeast of Barbuda at 11 p.m. Tuesday.

Hurricane warnings, which means that the storm is imminent, were in effect for much of the Caribbean, Puerto Rico and parts of the Dominican Republic.

Watches, typically issued 48 hours before a storm is expected to hit, were in effect for the provinces of Matanzas eastward to Guantanamo in Cuba.

The latest advisory showed Irma had made a turn and was heading a bit north instead of just west.

The storm is expected to produce a storm surge as high as 15 to 20 feet, including the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas, the advisory said. Rainfall could reach up to 20 inches in some spots.

“The combination of a life-threatening storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline,” the advisory said.

It was still not clear Tuesday night whether a collision between a high-pressure system and a low-pressure trough moving across the United States will change Irma’s direction.

The current trajectory still shows much of Florida in the storm’s path with the storm expected to hit South Florida by Sunday.