Hurricane Irma Is the Strongest Storm Ever Recorded Outside Gulf and Caribbean

With the nation's focus in southeast Texas on Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath, Hurricane Irma has been gaining steam. In fact, National Hurricane Center forecasters said that its sustained winds have increased to 185 mph, making it the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded outside the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.

The Category 5 storm is swirling to threaten areas including the Leeward Islands with "catastrophic" winds Tuesday night, with Antigua, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico by Wednesday, according to the National Hurricane Center. (Click here to see a photo released by NASA of the eye of the storm.)

As Irma churns closer to the U.S., south Florida — more specifically the Keys — is becoming increasingly likely to suffer damage. Winds could hit Florida as early as Friday.

Florida governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in all 67 counties and has ordered all 7,000 members of the state's National Guard to report for duty on Friday. The Florida Highway Patrol and Department of Transportation are also on standby to help with evacuation efforts.

“A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months," the hurricane center described the damage that could occur.

Miami-Dade County mayor Carlos Gimenez also declared a state of emergency for the county on Tuesday afternoon and said that evacuations on barrier islands and along the coast could begin as early as Wednesday. Monroe County issued a mandatory evacuation of all residents beginning at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Because Irma is so large, stretching around 120 miles wide, meteorologists warn against paying too close attention to the storm's exact path.

Monroe County says there will be no roadblocks in the leadup to the storm in order to ensure clear evacuation routes. Schools and county offices will begin closing on Wednesday.

"If ever there was a storm to take seriously in the Keys, this is it,” Monroe County Emergency Management Director Martin Senterfitt said. “The sooner people leave, the better.”

Get everything you need to know about the Category 5 hurricane here, including details on another storm in the Atlantic Ocean set to brew into a hurricane by Friday.