Hurricane Irma regained strength Sunday to a Category 3 storm, with winds at 115 mph and an unpredictable path that might strike the United States next week anywhere between Florida and Nova Scotia.
A sharper image of the hurricane’s track should come into focus by Tuesday, said meteorologist Philip Klotzbach with Colorado State University.
The storm could also turn back out to sea without hitting the U.S. mainland.
“The forecast cone is several hundred miles wide, so we’ll all be watching, waiting and being prepared,” Klotzbach said Sunday. “We don’t want the entire coastline from Florida to Maine to freak out, but pay attention.”
While Texas and Louisiana dry out from Tropical Storm Harvey's devastating rainfall, the nation is on high alert but needs to be patient, Klotzbach said. He suggested residents on the Eastern Seaboard refresh preparedness kits and keep close watch of the forecasts.
"Subtle shifts in the path now can make big changes as to where it goes next," Klotzbach said. "Follow your local emergency managers and start thinking about what you'd do if there's an order to evacuate or shelter-in-place."
Irma is tracking toward the Bahamas by Thursday.
The National Hurricane Center said Sunday that Irma will likely be a major hurricane — meaning a Category 3 or higher — when it moves near the northeastern Leeward Islands by the middle of this week and could cause dangerous winds, storm surge and rainfall.
Hurricane watches were issued Sunday for portions of the Leeward Islands and a NOAA hurricane hunter aircraft had been deployed en route to Irma, according to the hurricane center.
As the storm strengthens over warm water, it could slam into the Caribbean islands as a Category 4 with winds topping 150 mph.
The hurricane center said it is too early to determine what direct impact Irma could have on the U.S. coast by next weekend.
Sunday’s advisories said Irma was still 885 miles east of the Leeward Islands moving at about 14 mph.
In the eastern Pacific Ocean, Tropical Storm Lidia degenerated Sunday with maximum sustained winds dropping to near 35 mph after taking aim at Mexico’s Baja Peninsula.
Initially, Lidia brought concerns about possible flooding and mudslides in Baja California Sur and western Jalisco that received almost 20 inches of rain.
Tropical moisture from Lidia will spread across parts of the desert Southwest into Monday and produce scattered showers and thunderstorms in Nevada, western Arizona and Southern California. The weather service warned of life-threatening surf and rip currents produced by the residual storm swells.