Hurricane Irma is swirling in the Atlantic, giving few indications of a future path and denying forecasters a chance to catch their breaths after the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.
By Sunday morning, Irma had strengthened to a Category 3 hurricane, churning about 2,000 miles west of Africa and 1,000 miles east of the Leeward Island. Its winds were nearing 115 mph (185 km/h), the National Hurricane Center said.
"Irma is expected to be a major hurricane when it moves closer to the Lesser Antilles over the next few days, producing rough surf and rip currents," the NHC said.
'Irma could also cause dangerous wind, storm surge, and rainfall impacts on some islands, although it is too soon to specify where and when those hazards could occur," it said, warning that residents of the Lesser Antilles should monitor the hurricane's progress.
But the center said it was too early to know what impact Irma could have on the Bahamas and United States, where there are no warnings or watches currently in effect.
"Regardless, everyone in hurricane-prone areas should ensure that they have their hurricane plan in place, as we are now near the peak of the season," the NHC said.
By early Sunday, Irma was moving west at a speed of 15 mph (24 km/h).
The center tweeted that tropical-storm-force winds from Irma would likely begin in the Leeward Islands Tuesday night.
Threat to the US
CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward said it was too early to ascertain what threat Irma posed to the United States:
"As for what we do know, the system will approach the northern Leeward Islands late Tuesday or early Wednesday, likely as a major hurricane of Category 3 or more. It's still unclear if these islands will take a direct hit or just be brushed by the outer bands of the storm," he said.
"Beyond the northern Leeward Islands, the storm could approach the Turks and Caicos and Bahamas by late week, but again nothing is certain for these regions."
Forecast models generally showed Irma approaching the Bahamas before turning to the north or northwest, Ward said:
"How hard the storm turns and where this occurs will determine what portion of the US is the most at risk. It is also still entirely possible that the storm approaches the Bahamas and then turns sharp enough to stay out to sea. The storm is expected to be a major hurricane so it would still bring high surf, erosion, and rip currents to much of the eastern seaboard, but staying offshore is obviously the best case scenario."
If Irma made landfall in the US it would likely not be until late next weekend at the earliest, he said.
Irma was designated a tropical storm Wednesday morning, and by Thursday afternoon, it had strengthened, with winds of 115 mph.
Irma is a classic "Cape Verde hurricane," a type of hurricane that forms in the far eastern Atlantic, near the Cape Verde Islands (now known as the Cabo Verde Islands), then tracks all the way across the Atlantic, CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said.
Cape Verde storms frequently become some of the largest and most intense hurricanes. Examples are Hurricane Hugo, Hurricane Floyd, and Hurricane Ivan.