Hurricane Irma weakened to a Category 2 storm Sunday as it made its way across land, up the coast of southwest Florida.
The storm made its second landfall at Marco Island, near Naples, bearing blinding rains and sustained winds of 115 mph, gusting to 130 mph. Later, the National Hurricane Center reported that sustained winds had ebbed to 110 mph as the eye of the storm passed over Naples.
Still, the storm was likely to maintain hurricane strength at least through Monday, despite “significant weakening" over land, the center said.
Hurricane Irma made a second ferocious landfall near Naples on Sunday after inundating the low-lying Florida Keys, sending floodwaters surging into downtown Miami and menacing millions in Florida’s Gulf Coast cities where some had initially sought shelter from the storm.
As the fierce Category 3 storm tracked its way up Florida’s west coast, water was sucked from part of Tampa Bay, exposing a muddy expanse that would normally be underwater — a frightening portent of flooding to come when that water, and more, comes rushing back.
The cities bracketing the bay — Tampa and St. Petersburg, with a population of some 3 million people between them — were forecast to be clobbered later Sunday by sustained hurricane-force winds.
In St. Petersburg, Fla., poised to take a possible direct hit from Hurricane Irma, officials were bracing for the onslaught expected late Sunday.
The St. Petersburg police chief announced in a statement that a curfew would begin at 5 p.m., and Mayor Rick Kriseman warned that first responders would not be able to respond to emergency calls once winds reach more than 40 mph. Those services would "return when conditions are safe," Kriseman told the Los Angeles Times by phone. "All residents need to be off the roads and taking shelter."
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri's staff was busy relocating 1,000 inmates from the county jail.
If you live in Florida, the only thing you watch more than the weather is football. And for one brief weekend, the weather took precedence. But not everywhere.
People in South Florida had more to worry about than any football game. But if you were not in the direct path, in a place such as Orlando, what would a local television station do balancing a big local news story and an audience that wants its football?
Some residents just wanted a break from the constant drumbeat of hurricane coverage, especially when the storm was still hours away.
A 92-mph wind gust was reported at Miami International Airport Sunday as Hurricane Irma slammed into South Florida. At 1 p.m. Eastern Time, the Category 4 storm was 50 miles south of Naples, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The latest forecast puts Naples, Tampa and the western coast of the Florida peninsula directly in the path of the storm, which is generating sustained winds of 130 mph.
The storm is expected to plow into the Tampa Bay area by early Monday morning.