CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- As of the 1 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center, Hurricane Irma has sustained winds of 185 mph, the strongest winds measured in a tropical system in the Atlantic basin in 12 years. Only four other storms on record have had similar or stronger winds in this region.
Very warm waters and a lack of wind shear just east of the Caribbean Sea have allowed Hurricane Irma to strengthen rapidly over 24 hours, from a Category 3 Monday to a strong Category 5 (winds greater than 156 mph) Tuesday morning.
The last storm to contain winds of this magnitude was Hurricane Wilma in 2005, which made landfall in Florida after weakening to a Category 3. Only one storm on record had stronger winds. That was Hurricane Allen in 1980.
Irma also has the strongest winds of a tropical system on record in the Atlantic Basin outside of the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.
The latest forecast from the NHC moves Irma west-northwest over the next 5 days, taking it near Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, and Cuba. From there, it is expected to take a northerly turn, and likely impact Florida by the end of the week. Irma is also expected to weaken some, but remain at least a Category 4 storm.