Hurricane Irma is forecast to remain powerful as it churns through the Atlantic Ocean over the next several days, prompting calls to prepare for the worst, but it's still too early to know where or even if it will hit land.
Concern is heightened because of Hurricane Harvey's devastating floods across southeastern Texas, and as the tropics show signs of a potentially stormy month ahead.
But meteorologists cautioned against trusting forecasts spreading around social media that show storm tracks targeting Houston or other parts of U.S. coastline. National Hurricane Center forecasters only forecast five days out, and by Tuesday, they expect Irma to be approaching the Leeward Islands and Caribbean Sea as a major storm.
As of Friday morning, Irma had weakened slightly but remained intense, dropping from a Category 3 storm with up to 115 mph winds to a Category 2 storm with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph.
After moving over slightly cooler waters Friday and Saturday, the storm is expected to regain strength by Sunday, forecasters said. They warned Irma is "forecast to remain a powerful hurricane for days," reaching major storm status again Sunday and maintaining that force into the middle of next week, at least.
Long-term forecasting models continue to show a range of possibilities for Irma, including paths into the Gulf of Mexico, up the East Coast or out to sea.
The Weather Channel notes that it could be just the latest in a series of impactful I-named storms. Eight storm names that start with "I" have been retired since 2001 — including Irene and Isabel, both of which brought significant flooding to Maryland.
Meanwhile, meteorologists are watching a wave of clouds and showers off of the African coast that could become a storm on Irma's heels. The hurricane center predicted 50/50 odds that the system becomes a tropical storm within five days.
Harvey's remnants stretched across the Ohio Valley on Friday, expected to bring rain to Maryland from Friday afternoon through Saturday.