FIRST ALERT: Irma expected to begin moving northwest; tropical storm warnings issued for Tri-County

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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) –

Hurricane Irma has begun to turn northwest as it approaches Florida Saturday afternoon.

The latest update shows Irma weakened earlier Saturday morning to a category 3, but restrengthening is anticipated.

The 2 p.m. update is still showing Irma continuing its trend away from South Carolina lessening the effects that the Lowcountry would feel if the state was hit directly.

Irma is not expected to directly hit South Carolina, but due to the magnitude and size of the hurricane, effects are expected based on current reports. A hurricane watch is in effect for Beaufort County while a tropical storm watch is in effect for Charleston and Colleton counties.

MOBILE USERS: Click here to watch continuing coverage of Hurricane Irma

Live 5 News Meteorologist Joey Sovine says based on Saturday’s update the Lowcountry should still expect some heavy rain and flooding on Monday.

“When all is said and done we’re looking at 3 to 5 inches of rain,” Sovine said on Saturday.

The biggest concerns are coastal impacts, dangerous surf throughout the weekend and very high rip current risks.

“We could see some significant flooding issues around Monday’s high tides,” Sovine said.”Also watch for heavy rain and tornado threats.”

READ: How to build your hurricane disaster kit

Irma is expected to be a Category 4 hurricane when it hits south Florida on Sunday.

On Saturday afternoon, Irma’s winds were down to 125 mph.

Sovine says the decrease in strength is a bit of encouraging news with lesser impacts expected for South Carolina.

However, there is a lot of water that Irma has to traverse to when it reaches Florida where the potential for it to strengthen is great as it moves north.

The forecast still remains the same in terms of the hurricane moving up the Florida peninsula, then into Georgia as it moves on a westward trend away from South Carolina.

“As it moves northward, the storm retracts back into Georgia, and that lowers the threat of sustained tropical storm force winds for South Carolina, ” Sovine said.

Instead, the state is expected to get tropical storm force wind gusts which could cause some scattered power outtages.

READ: How to create a severe weather family plan

2 p.m. Update

At 2 p.m., the distinct eye of Hurricane Irma was located by a reconnaissance plane and radar near latitude 23.1 North, longitude 80.2 West, about 65 miles east of Varadero, Cuba and about 145 miles southeast of Key West, Florida.

The Category 3 hurricane’s maximum sustained winds were at 125 mph decreasing its strength from the 11 a.m. update. Irma is moving toward the west northwest near 9 mph.

Irma is forcast to restrengthen once it moves away from Cuba as is expected to remain a powerful storm as it approaches Florida.

On the forecast track, the eye of Irma should move near the north coast of Cuba and the central Bahamas Saturday, and be near the Florida Keys and the southern Florida Peninsula Sunday morning.

Potential S.C. impact

Live 5 News Chief Meteorologist Walsh says even though Irma is not headed to the state the Lowcountry will still feel some impacts.

“We’ll certainly see some storm surge and we’ll see a lot of heavy rainfall,” Walsh said.

Those impacts are expected to be felt on Monday.

According to Walsh, as Irma pushes to the north, even if it tracks to our west, we’re going to see water piling on the beaches.

In this scenario, the hurricane would be forecast to be a tropical storm when it reaches Georgia.

That would still put South Carolina in the most powerful side of the storm, but the storm would be weaker than earlier models have predicted and further away.

“If this trend continues, it would be good news for Charleston,” Chief Meteorologist Bill Walsh said. “But remember, these forecast models will continue to evolve.”

We start to see Irma turn on Saturday towards south Florida where the current models show it moves westward.

The latest trends show it heading westward and pulling up towards the Tennessee Valley.

Walsh says there are three possible scenarios at this point.

The first is a 5 percent chance that it stays east of South Carolina and out to sea which would bring us high surf, heavy rain and tropical storm winds.

The second is a 20 percent scenario which has Irma directly hitting South Carolina where we would see hurricane winds, flooding rains and damaging storm surge.

The third scenario is a 40 percent chance of Irma remaining inland as it moves north through Florida then west.

We would experience tornado threats, heavy rain and tropical storm winds in this case.

“Our best hope is that the storm weakens as it comes up and stays off more to the west,” Walsh said Thursday night.

Timeline of Events for the Lowcountry

  • Sunday afternoon

    Live 5 News Forecaster Jordan Wilkerson says Sunday afternoon is when we begin to see effects with rain developing and gusty winds.

  • Sunday night

    “On Sunday night, we see heavier rainfall will really start to mix in,” Wilkerson said. “Storm surge could already be a factor, especially around our tides.”

    Wind gusts are expected between 20 mph and 30 mph.

  • Monday

    “This is going to be our big impact day,” Wilkerson said.”This is the worst of the days.”

    Wilkerson says the Lowcountry will be experiencing heavy rain with wind speeds between 40 mph and 50 mph.

    “This is if everything stays the same in the current track,” Wilkerson said.”Again there is a little bit of uncertainty, we could see a little bit of change.”

    Storm surges are expected to be three to six feet.

  • Monday night

    “Heavy rain and wind continuing with the winds starting to calm back down a little bit with 30 mph to 40 mph winds,” Wilkerson said.

    Storm surges are expected to remain between three to six feet.

Wilkerson says the bottom line is that we are still expecting impacts even though we’re outside of the forecast track cone of Irma.

“But you have to keep in mind, that Irma is nearly 500 miles wide,” Wilkerson said.”We’re still going to feel some of those impacts.”

Evacuations and School/Business Closures

Gov. Henry McMaster has declared a state of emergency for South Carolina ahead of potentially catastrophic Hurricane Irma Wednesday and urged people in potentially vulnerable areas to review personal safety plans, become familiar with local evacuation zones in coastal counties and locate the nearest hurricane evacuation routes.

McMaster announced Friday night a mandatory evacuation order to go into effect for the barrier islands of Colleton, Beaufort and Jasper Counties at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Those islands include Edisto Beach in Colleton County; Dafuskie Island, Fripp Island, Harbor Island, Hunting Island and Hilton Head Island in Beaufort County; and Knowles Island and Tulifinny Island in Jasper County.

In addition a number of school districts and businesses have announced closures due to the storm.

Irma, the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history made its first landfall in the northern Caribbean at around 1:47 a.m., the National Weather Service said.

Current watches and warnings

A Storm Surge Warning is in effect for:

  • Volusia/Brevard County Line southward around the Florida peninsula to the Suwanee River
  • Florida Keys
  • Tampa Bay

A Storm Surge Watch is in effect for:

  • North of the Volusia/Brevard County line to the Isle of Palms, South Carolina
  • North of the Suwanee River to Ochlockonee River

A Hurricane Warning is in effect for:

  • Fernandina Beach southward around the Florida peninsula to the Aucilla River
  • Florida Keys
  • Lake Okeechobee
  • Florida Bay
  • Cuban provinces of Camaguey, Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spiritus, Villa Clara, Matanzas, and Havana
  • Andros Island, Bimini and Grand Bahama

A Hurricane Watch is in effect for:

  • North of Fernandina Beach to Edisto Beach
  • West of the Aucilla River to Indian Pass
  • Cuban provinces of Holguin and Las Tunas

A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for:

  • Cuban provinces of Holguin, Las Tunas

A Tropical Storm Watch is in effect for:

  • North of Edisto Beach to South Santee River
  • West of Indian Pass to the Okaloosa/Walton County Line

A Storm Surge Warning means there is a danger of life-threatening inundation, from rising water moving inland from the coastline, during the next 36 hours.

A Storm Surge Watch means there is a possibility of life- threatening inundation, from rising water moving inland from the coastline, in the indicated locations during the next 48 hours.

A Hurricane Warning means that hurricane conditions are expected somewhere within the warning area. A warning is typically issued 36 hours before the anticipated first occurrence of tropical-storm- force winds, conditions that make outside preparations difficult or dangerous. Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.

A Hurricane Watch means that hurricane conditions are possible within the watch area. A watch is typically issued 48 hours before the anticipated first occurrence of tropical-storm-force winds, conditions that make outside preparations difficult or dangerous.

A Tropical Storm Warning means that tropical storm conditions are expected somewhere within the warning area in this case within 36 hours.

A Tropical Storm Watch means that tropical storm conditions are possible within the watch area, generally within 48 hours.

Computer models continue to vary on the storm’s path because it is still far out into the Atlantic.

Click here to download the free Live 5 News and First Alert Weather apps to stay updated on tropical development.

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