UPDATE: The hurricane has now reached several Caribbean islands. Live updates on the storm can be found here.
With the United States still reeling from the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, officials are warning that another incoming storm could also lead to widespread damage.
Hurricane Irma strengthened to a Category 5 storm Tuesday morning, as it barreled toward the Caribbean islands and southern U.S.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) has labelled the storm as “potentially catastrophic.”
Here’s what Canadians should know about the storm.
When will the storm hit and where?
Hurricane warnings are in effect for the Leeward Islands, the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. The looming hurricane may also affect the U.S. East Coast, especially Florida.
The storm is expected to approach Antigua and Barbuda late Tuesday or Wednesday morning, then the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Wednesday afternoon, before hitting the U.S. mainland later this week.
WATCH: Florida residents encouraged to prepare for Hurricane Irma
A hurricane watch has been issued for parts of the Dominican Republic, Haiti, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the southern Bahamas.
However, Irma’s exact path is subject to change.
Will the storm affect Canada?
The storm will have no direct impact on Canada, according to Global News’ chief meteorologist, Anthony Farnell.
But Farnell notes that Canadians travelling may be affected.
“If you are a Canadian travelling or know anyone travelling through the Caribbean, Cuba or Florida this storm will directly impact you in the next week,” he said. “Landfall is looking more likely in Florida this weekend but a continued shift west and south in the track means that a landfall in Cuba is also possible.”
The Canadian government has issued an advisory urging residents to avoid non-essential travel to the areas affected by Irma.
WATCH: Hurricane Irma strengthening off U.S. East Coast
How powerful is the storm?
WATCH BELOW: ISS captures dramatic view of Hurricane Irma from space
As of Tuesday morning, the NHC said Irma had sustained winds of 280 km/h and was centred about 440 kilometres east of Antigua. It was moving west at 22 km/h.
Authorities have warned that storm could dump as much as 25 centimetres of rain, potentially causing flash floods and landslides.
Farnell explains the hurricane’s intensity is rare for storms passing through islands in the Caribbean Sea.
“The storm is a Category 5 and stronger than Hurricane Katrina at her strongest point in the Gulf of Mexico,” he explained. “This is very rare for a storm about to move through the northern Lesser Antilles.”
The NHC noted that it’s the strongest storm they have on record in the Atlantic basin outside of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.
How are locals being advised to prepare for the storm?
A state of emergency has been declared in Puerto Rico and Florida, with locals at other nearby islands being told to stay vigilant in case the storm changes its path.
Photos on social media show long lines at grocery stores, as residents stock up on water bottles, food, and other necessary supplies.
One photo out of Puerto Rico shows empty shelves that are normally lined with water bottles.
How will travel be affected?
Officials across the northeastern Caribbean have cancelled flights.
Air Canada has issued a “goodwill policy,” allowing passengers scheduled to fly to certain Caribbean airports the chance to change flights without a charge.
WATCH: Aerial footage shows mounds of trash as Houston digs out from Hurricane Harvey
WestJet has also issued a notice urging passengers flying to the Caribbean to check their flight status before heading to the airport.
Meanwhile, American Airlines has added extra flights out of two Caribbean islands to get people out of the path of Hurricane Irma.
— With files from Reuters and The Associated Press