For a potential preview of Hurrican Irma consult your national news channel.


For a potential preview of Hurrican Irma consult your national news channel.

Hurricane Harvey has provided days of sobering images and now Hurricane Irma is barreling toward collisions in the Caribbean, with the very real possibility of major landfall in Florida sometime late this week or early next.

Irma had become a Category 5 storm as of Tuesday, with maximum winds of 175 mph; the last Category 5 to hit the U.S. mainland was Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Gulf County Emergency Management Director Marshall Nelson said the Andrew comparisons are not far off.

“This could be worse than Andrew,” Nelson said. “This is going to clean Florida’s clock.

“Right now we are preparing for the worst-case scenario, landfall on the west side of Florida and preparing for what impacts we might face.”

As of Tuesday, the cone of Irma’s hurricane-level winds was roughly 100 miles wide; Nelson noted that is roughly the width of the Florida peninsula.

Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for the entire state over the holiday weekend and Nelson said the Board of County Commissioners are likely to declare a local state of emergency before this paper is in racks.

That allows the mobilizing of resources and eliminates some red-tape hurdles for staging and preparation, though Nelson noted that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was already overwhelmed in the wake of Harvey’s landfall in Houston.

Nelson held a series of meetings Tuesday with first-responding agencies and stakeholders to coordinate plans, with the county entering the equation the following day after the local state of emergency is declared.

As for households and individuals, Nelson said start preparing now.

Most of all have a plan, where to evacuate and communicate with family members just what the plan is and stick to it.

“Right now, you need to go ahead and make preparations,” Nelson said. “Buy supplies and be ready.

“The most important thing is to make a plan of where you are going to go and making sure family members know where you are going to be. That is so important.”

The key in the days ahead, Nelson said, is the interaction between Irma and a cold front coming from the Pacific across the country into the South and our area later this week.

“That is the key guiding piece, that front,” Nelson said.

That front is expected to steer Irma to the north; how strong the front is will determine the extent of that turn.

If the front has weakened sufficiently, Irma could barrel through the Florida Straits and emerge into the Gulf of Mexico, putting the entire Gulf Coast in the bull’s eye of a powerful storm gaining strength over warm water.

However, forecasts currently have the front sufficiently strong to streer Irma more to the northeast; but nearly all forecast tracks as of Tuesday at the main threat directly up the Florida peninsula.

Right now, Nelson and team are assessing, and preparing, a host of possibilities. He said that he hoped by late Thursday or Friday to have a clearer idea of Irma’s path.