Hurricane Irma, one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes ever recorded, started slamming the southeastern Caribbean islands early Wednesday with devastating winds, heavy rains, and catastrophic storm surges.
As of 2 p.m. ET on Thursday, the Category 5 storm's eye was 70 miles southeast of Grand Turk Island, with maximum sustained winds of 175 mph. The National Hurricane Center said the "extremely dangerous" hurricane was cruising northwest at 16 mph in between Hispaniola and Turks and Caicos.
The NHC predicts Irma will keep battering the northern side of the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Thursday, reach Turks and Caicos and the southeastern Bahamas by Thursday night, and move across the central Bahamas on Friday.
Cuba's northeast coast will most likely see the storm Friday and Saturday, and then Irma is forecasted to take a sharp turn north, eyeing the US mainland.
The National Weather Service's latest forecast puts Florida in the storm's crosshairs, with Irma most likely arriving on the southern tip of the state Sunday morning, skirting its eastern coast on Monday, and heading for Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina on Tuesday morning.
The weather models still aren't sure what Irma's precise location or strength will be as it moves up the East Coast next week, but the NHC forecasts Irma will still be at least a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of above 130 mph when it hits Florida.
"The threat of dangerous major hurricane impacts in Florida continues to increase," Lixion Avila, a senior hurricane specialist at the NHC, wrote in a forecast Thursday morning, adding, "The chance of direct impacts is increasing in portions of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina, but it is too early to specify the magnitude and location of the impacts."