GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Hurricane Irma continues to strengthen as it approaches the Caribbean Islands and, eventually, the state of Florida.
And in the midst of people in the state getting ready for one the strongest hurricanes in history, the Florida Gators are still in the midst of preparing for their home opener against Northern Colorado on Saturday.
Which begs the question: What are the realistic chances of Florida’s game being played?
It’s still possible, but just not at the originally scheduled 7:30 p.m. kickoff. Florida’s athletic department sent out a release on Tuesday saying it has officials closely monitoring the storm but did not have an official update on if the game will be played, rescheduled or canceled.
While the decision is ultimately up to the University of Florida, City of Gainesville and Alachua County officials, meteorologist Al Sandrik with the National Weather Service said the Gainesville area could start experiencing tropical storm-force winds as early as Saturday evening. Should Florida play the game — Athletics Director Scott Stricklin said Tuesday he would be meeting communicating plans to the public on Wednesday — the likely options are to move the game up to noon Saturday or to play at some point Friday.
“The earlier the game is played, obviously, the better,” Sandrik said.
Irma has grown into a Category 5 storm with sustained winds maxing at about 185 mph, according to the latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center on Wednesday morning . According to the National Hurricane Center based in Miami, Irma is the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic basin outside of the Caribbean Sea & Gulf of Mexico.
Based on the projected path , which could vary over the next couple days, the storm is expected make landfall in Florida Sunday night.
“Right now, we’re not sure whether we’ll be seeing a track that will go up the spine of the state or something that passes further offshore, but we are looking for something that likely would have an approach that would impact the coastal counties,” Sandrik said. “There might be some type of an evacuation down the line and how that would influence Gainesville would depend upon what the local officials decided to do.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott has already declared a State of Emergency for all 67 Florida counties and said at a news conference on Tuesday that Irma “has the potential to devastate this state. You have to take this seriously.” Scott also ordered all 7,000 members of the state’s National Guard to report to duty on Friday.
If the game is moved to Friday night or early Saturday, Sandrik said fans traveling to Gainesville to watch should prepare and exercise their due diligence.
“A lot of that is going to depend on the circumstance,” Sandrik said. “We have Gator fans everywhere across the state and in southeast Georgia. Certainly by that period of time, we would be looking at — if things continue as they are now — we would be looking at significant evacuations across the southern part of the state. Again, while local officials will make a decision about whether the game is played or not, certainly by that period of time there will be significant disruptions across the southern and maybe even central part of the state with evacuations and maybe even weather conditions.”
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