Will Hurricane Irma Hit Panama City? Residents Should Be Prepared

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Hurricane Irma is likely to make landfall somewhere on the continental United States within the next five days. But now that the storm is the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, millions of Americans are bracing for impact.

Florida may be the state on highest alert: The focus of Hurricane Irma's potential impact has mostly been on southern Florida, home of the densely populated urban centers Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. However, some projections chart a different path for Hurricane Irma, one that puts Panama City and other Gulf Coast towns as a possible track for the monster storm.

The difficulty in accurately predicting a hurricane's path helps explain why Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for all of Florida's 67 counties. While many models do indicate that southern Florida is the most probable place that Irma will make landfall, there is no exact science for charting any hurricane's route. In 2015, the average seasonal tracking error for hurricanes was 65 miles, and that was a marked improvement over the previous decade.

Making forecasting more difficult is the fact that Irma is still several days away. The further out a hurricane is, the larger the probability that models will be off. As of today, some of the models for Irma do show a possibility that the hurricane will move west before heading north, thus putting Florida's panhandle in danger.

Residents across Florida are preparing for Hurricane Irma's arrival. Reports of grocery stores emptied of bottled water and food staples are common, from Miami to Panama City. With Hurricane Harvey not yet two weeks in the past, the devastating reality of the damage that that hurricanes can leave in their wake is painfully fresh.

The path of Irma will become more certain over the next few days, as the storm makes its way past several Caribbean islands that are in more immediate and definite danger. Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, St. Kitts, St. Martin, and St. Thomas all fall within Irma's trajectory.

Meteorologists expect Irma's encounter with those islands to likely weaken it to a Category 4 hurricane. And Floridians, along with other coastal residents, will have to wait until Friday or Saturday to know for sure if Irma is headed their way.

As of right now, it is still a possibility that Irma slides to the west of Florida's Atlantic coast and makes its way north towards the panhandle — residents of Panama City and other Gulf Coast towns should prepare accordingly.