The eye of Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys on Sunday, bringing with it Category 4 strength maximum sustained winds, "life-threatening" storm surge, and the threat of double digit rainfall in some areas.
After weakening to a Category 3 after slamming Cuba, the storm, which devastated several islands in the Caribbean, re-energized over warmer waters overnight as it made its way north to Florida.
Though some meteorologists said the eye of Irma made landfall just before 9 a.m. Eastern, the National Hurricane Center reported that landfall came at Cudjoe Key at 9:10 a.m. with the storm maintaining 130 miles-per-hour sustained maximum winds.
Though Florida has seen its fair share of hurricanes, including a handful of storms making landfall as Category 5s, Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned Saturday that Irma would be the "most catastrophic" storm Florida has experienced.
"This is a deadly major storm, and our state has never seen anything like it," Scott said in a press conference in Orange County, one of several he gave to prepare residents for the oncoming damage. "Millions of Floridians will see major hurricane impacts with deadly, deadly, deadly storm surges and life-threatening winds."
The outer bands of Irma have been lashing out at southern Florida since Saturday, generating tornadoes and gusts of near-hurricane-force winds, but the most dangerous part of the storm is near the eye, where the most intense winds are usually found. About 600,000 people are without power in Florida as of press time, according to CNN.
The National Weather Service issued a stern message Friday afternoon to Key West residents, as the storm's predicted track shifted west away from Miami, that with the coming of a Hurricane Irma landfall they need to evacuate because "this is as real as it gets."
"A reasonable worst case scenario has over half of Key West underwater due to storm surge," said Weather Channel meteorologist and weather producer Greg Diamond in a tweet that was retweeted by the National Weather Service Key West. "This is why @NWSKeyWest is saying to get out #irma."
The graphic he shares shows large swaths of Key West under 1 to 3 feet of water. Key West sits at the end of a string of islands, or keys, extending from the southern tip of the Florida peninsula. The National Hurricane Center predicts up to 5 to 10 feet of storm surge in the low-lying Florida Keys and a 106 mph wind gust had been detected as of 9:10 a.m.
A reasonable worst case scenario has over half of Key West underwater due to storm surgeThis is why @NWSKeyWest is saying to get out #irma pic.twitter.com/2xfv0anPsY— Greg Diamond (@gdimeweather) September 9, 2017
Beyond the Keys, the storm is forecast to weaken over land, while the eye heads north towards Tampa Bay and the capital of Tallahassee, and later Alabama and Georgia.
Meanwhile, though spared from the eye of the storm, hurricane-force winds are also sweeping through the eastern part of the state, including Miami.
President Trump has been briefed daily on the storm, saying Saturday during a meeting with his Cabinet in Camp David: "We've never seen anything like this." Late Saturday he tweeted: "The U.S. Coast Guard, FEMA and all Federal and State brave people are ready. Here comes Irma. God bless everyone!" He approved emergency declarations for Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Nearly 7 million people in Florida had been asked by officials to evacuate ahead of Irma's landfall; and there are shelters set up for residents set up throughout the state. The largest evacuation in U.S. history prior to this, according to PBS, was in Texas in 2005 when officials tried to clear people out before Hurricane Rita struck. Then, 3.7 million people left the Houston region.
Irma, which had been a record-breaking Category 5 storm, has been tied to at least 20 deaths in the Caribbean.