Irma is one of the strongest hurricanes ever, National Hurricane Center says

Posted at 1:45 PM, Sep 05, 2017

Hurricane Irma is packing one of the most powerful punches on record, according to the National Hurricane Center. And it's barreling toward the U.S.

The "potentially catastrophic" Category 5 hurricane has already pushed Florida to declare a state of emergency and spurred a mandatory evacuation in the Florida Keys. The National Hurricane Center says it is the strongest storm in the Atlantic basin outside of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico in its records.

PHOTOS: Hurricane Irma preparations

Reports from an Air Force Hurricane Hunter aircraft on Tuesday indicated wind speeds had reached 185 miles per hour. Intensity is likely to fluctuate, the NHC said.

Where Hurricane Irma will make landfall is not yet clear, but areas in the projected paths are bracing for the worst. It has been churning in the Atlantic for nearly a week and reached Category 5 status Tuesday.

Current forecasts call for Irma's life-threatening winds and storm surge to hit the British and U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Wednesday. It will likely make landfall in or get close to Florida by Monday, Sept. 11.