As Hurricane Irma approached the Caribbean islands, the storm reached Category 5 status with peak winds of 185 mph. It was the strongest Atlantic basin hurricane on record outside the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. Then Irma struck Cuba.
Initially, the official forecast track by the National Hurricane Center kept the eye of Irma over the open waters just north of Cuba – albeit the cone of uncertainty included the possibility that Irma’s center could go over northern Cuba.
And it did. The eye of Irma spent about 24 hours bouncing right along the northern coast of Cuba, causing the hurricane to weaken from Category 5 to Category 3 status.
Once Irma was back over the warm waters of the Florida Straits, the hurricane began to strengthen. On Saturday about 12:15 a.m., the outer bands of the storm began reaching the Keys.
Irma barely regained Category 4 status when it struck the Keys. While still a strong hurricane, Irma did not pack as powerful a punch as it could have had it not gone over Cuba.
The National Hurricane Center reported Irma made landfall at 9:10 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, on Cudjoe Key. Strong winds continued throughout the Keys the rest of the day and subsided in the afternoon. The storm also brought storm surge, up to about 9 feet in some areas.
While the Keys were weathering Hurricane Irma, Monroe County’s Emergency Management team was working out of the makeshift Emergency Operations Center set up Saturday morning at Ocean Reef’s employee housing. When the power went out, everyone worked by flashlights and a few lights powered by small generators.
Video conferences using Zoom technology were held from this makeshift EOC with the Keys municipal emergency operation centers and other emergency responders throughout the Keys and the mainland.
Emergency Management Director Martin Senterfitt led the coordinated preparation effort to have local responders and out-of-county personnel and resources ready to go as soon as the storm passed.