Tracking Hurricane Irma... storm moving toward the US

The three most likely options we'll see from Irma. If Virginia gets rain, the storm is 7 to 9 days away (Photo: WSET)

Hurricane Irma continues moving westward toward the United States, and forecasting confidence has increased-- Florida will likely be directly impacted by this major hurricane.

The National Hurricane Center’s five day forecast shows Hurricane Irma near Cuba and South Florida by Saturday. I agree with this forecast.

Forecasting uncertainties are highest regarding the storm's intensity and when the storm turns north.

I can confidently say the hurricane should maintain its status as a major hurricane through Wednesday, but from Wednesday to Friday, the intensity is questionable. Here's why:

If the hurricane moves slightly farther SOUTH and directly strikes or comes close to passing over the Caribbean Islands, the storm could WEAKEN much more than forecast from the NHC. Computer model forecasts for hurricanes do NOT handle the effects of mountains accurately. The terrain usually weakens hurricanes more than data indicates.

If the hurricane moves slightly farther NORTH and remains over the ocean, the storm likely MAINTAINS strength, or possibly gets slightly stronger.

Once the hurricane moves toward Cuba and Florida by Saturday, the storm will likely do one of three options:

1) Cross over the Florida Keys, then turn abruptly northward, making landfall in the Southeastern United States to the east of the Mississippi River.

2) Turn northward, making landfall in Florida, then continue moving northward across the Carolinas and into Virginia. Scenario #2 is most likely.

3) Abruptly turn northward, then northeast. This scenario barely misses landfall on the East Coast, but produces heavy surf from Florida to Virginia. Scenario #3 is least likely.

Scenario #2 brings the most rain (and possibly wind) to Virginia; however, before we get to these choices, we have to monitor and adjust the forecast based on how much (if any) the Caribbean Islands alter Irma.

Texas... no scenario exists of a major impact.

My advice:

-Don't change or alter any plans you have in Virginia. Though probable, it's too early to know whether we'll even get a drop of rain from Irma.

-If the Heart of Virginia does receive rain from Irma, September 11th (Monday) to September 13th (Wednesday) are the most likely dates.

-Tropical forecasts beyond five days aren't very accurate, so it's not even possible for the "what ifs" along the East Coast beyond this period.

-Florida could be brutally battered by a large hurricane. Mass evacuations are likely. Irma's strength largely depends on its track over island terrain.

-I would change/alter/cancel weekend travel plans to Florida. Even if the hurricane misses landfall in Florida, the storm will pass close enough to make vacations uncomfortable. Plus, South Florida will likely be in evacuation mode.

-I don't see any significant threat to Virginia at this time, though rain will likely increase next week. Widespread flooding in Virginia? Unlikely, but way too early to be certain.

Stay tuned!... We'll keep you informed at ABC-13 News. George