Hurricane Irma strengthens, regains Category 3 status

FORT MYERS, Fla. Hurricane Irma strengthened Friday afternoon and regained a Category 3 status.

The storm had maximum sustained winds of 115 mph as of 11 p.m. Friday, the National Hurricane Center said. It was about 1405 miles east of the Leeward Islands, moving west-northwest at 14 mph.

Wind speeds shot up 45 mph to a peak of 115 mph in 12 hours Thursday, lifting Irma from tropical storm status to a Category 3 hurricane. The drop in wind speed Friday morning left it a Category 2.

But it’s expected to eventually intensify into a Category 4 and move generally westward toward the Caribbean Sea over the coming days.

It remains unclear whether it will affect Florida.

“I’ve seen models as far south as Cuba,” WINK Meteorologist Matt Devitt said. “I’ve seen them as far north as Canada. And some don’t even have it impacting land.”

Devitt went live via Facebook on Friday morning to answer viewer questions about the system.

Another tropical wave to Irma’s east has a 50 percent chance of development in the coming days, Devitt said.

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