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Hurricane Irma
Hurricane Irma has strengthened to a Category 4 storm. (NHC)

Hurricane Irma has strengthened to a Category 4 storm


Updated September 04, 2017 06:11 PM EDT

Hurricane Irma strengthened to a Category 4 storm Monday as it approached the eastern Caribbean.

As of late Monday afternoon, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said storm had maximum sustained winds of 130 mph.

"We're looking at Irma as a very significant event," Ronald Jackson, executive director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, told the AP. "I can't recall a tropical cone developing that rapidly into a major hurricane prior to arriving in the central Caribbean."

The storm could hit the northern Leeward Islands as early as Tuesday or Wednesday.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency Monday ahead of Hurricane Irma's arrival.

"Hurricane Irma is a major and life-threatening storm and Florida must be prepared," Scott said in a press release. "I have continued to be briefed by the Florida Division of Emergency Management on Hurricane Irma and current forecast models have Florida in Irma’s path – potentially impacting millions of Floridians."

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) says there’s an “increasing chance” Florida will see “some impacts from” Hurricane Irma, according to ABC News.

The NHC also said that Irma could affect mainland Florida and the surrounding Florida Keys later this week and over the weekend.

The organization added, however, that it remains too early to determine what result the storm will have on the U.S.

ABC News meteorologists on Monday, meanwhile, predicted that Irma reach an area of American spanning from Mobile, Alabama to the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

The forecast cone of uncertainty, they added, is now very close to touching Miami and parts of southern Florida.

Irma’s winds have strengthened to 120 mph as it nears the Caribbean, and the storm was expected by Cuba’s coast last Saturday.

The NHC said that hurricane warnings are typically issued 36 hours before the anticipated first occurrence of tropical-storm-force winds.

Hurricane watches, the NHC added, are traditionally made 48 hours before the anticipated first occurrence of same level of winds.

The NHC listed Antigua, Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts, Nevis, Saba, St. Eustatius, Sint Maarten, Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy all had warnings as of 11 a.m. local time Monday.

The U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Culebra, Guadeloupe and Vieques are each under warnings, according to the NHC.

Irma, which is a Category 3 hurricane, is expected to hit the Caribbean Tuesday while curving northwest, potentially bringing it into contact with America’s East Coast.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricard Rossello said Monday that government agencies in the U.S. territory were ready for emergencies stemming from the storm.

“We have established protocols for the safety of all,” he said at a news conference, while also urging residents to take precautions.

Louisiana and the Texas coast are struggling with the aftereffects of Harvey after it made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane late last month.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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