WSB’s Brad Nitz: Irma could hit Georgia as a Category 3

As Hurricane Irma approached the islands of Turks and Caicos as a Category 5, residents of coastal Georgia were urged to prepare to evacuate, Channel 2 Action News meteorologist Brad Nitz said Thursday afternoon.

Currently, Irma is expected to hit the Florida Keys and peninsula tip Saturday morning as a Category 4 hurricane.

How is Irma similar to Hurricane Matthew?

The majority of projected paths that Irma could take follow Matthew’s track from last year, but the biggest difference in these storms is intensity, Nitz said.

Because forecasts show Irma taking a hard right turn toward the east, Irma could hit Georgia’s coast as a Category 3 storm whereas Matthew was a Category 2 that weakened to a Category 1 as it made landfall.

The impacts of wind gusts and storm surge are going to be much more significant with Irma, Nitz said.

When is the best time to evacuate for Georgia residents?

Gov. Nathan Deal extended a state of emergency to 24 additional coastal counties Thursday, bringing the total to 30.

Residents have a few days to board up oceanfront homes and hit the highways, but Nitz said traffic is only going to worsen.

Deal announced that eastbound ramps of I-16 will close at 8 a.m. Saturday, and only westbound traffic will be allowed.

Where are winds the strongest in a hurricane?

Nitz said the strongest hurricane force winds, which are at 175 mph and expected to sustain those speeds as Irma grazes Cuba on Saturday morning, are around the eyewall.

Those winds that encircle the eye and the winds to the east of where the hurricane is heading are the most dangerous, Nitz said.