What You Should Know About Hurricane Irma's Chances Of Hitting The U.S.

by Joseph D. Lyons
Handout/Getty Images News/Getty Images

With Hurricane Harvey downgraded into a tropical depression and waters beginning to recede in Houston, the weather trackers have already moved onto the next big storm of the season. Hurricane Irma's path may not hit the United States mainland, but it's far too early to tell, given that the storm hasn't even reached the Caribbean yet.

Irma began dab smack in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and on Thursday, she was already tracking at a Category 3 "major hurricane" with winds around 115 miles per hour. She could very well grow to a Category 4 by the time she gets closer to land in the Americas, which sees winds from 130 to 156 miles per hour and is considered "extremely dangerous" with "catastrophic damage" likely to occur. Thus far the storm's growth has been rapid.

Regardless of the strength, though, the direct path Irma will take is anyone's guess, an AccuWeather hurricane expert explained. Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski explained for the weather-focused site that a number of atmospheric conditions are still at play, and they will decide its ultimate path.

"It is way too soon to say with certainty where and if this system will impact the U.S.," he explained Thursday on the site.

Of course, he means the mainland, lower 48 states. There's a good chance the storm could hit Puerto Rico. At this point, it's only a given that it will hit some of the easternmost islands in the Caribbean, such as the Lesser Antilles. From there. though, Irma could move north or further west.

Either path could lead the storm toward or away from the United States proper, but Puerto Rico, an American territory, is a likely target. According to AccuWeather meteorologist Brian Thompson, that would not occur until the middle of next week, if at all.

One of the things to keep in mind about the storm is where the hurricane was formed: in the mid-Atlantic, not far from the Cabo Verde islands. These storms, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration occur on average about twice a year (from none to five). Some of the most famous hurricanes of this type have caused quite a bit of damage, like Hurricane Ivan in 2004. But their paths do vary.

In addition to Irma, there is a system closer to home, in the Gulf of Mexico, to keep your eye on, according to the National Hurricane Center. "Development, if any, of this system is expected to be slow to occur as the low moves slowly northward," the center said. "If this system does develop, it could bring additional rainfall to portions of the Texas and Louisiana coasts."

That could hamper recovery efforts long before Irma would arrive to the country — if it ever does.