Weakening Irma takes aim at Tampa Bay

- Hurricane Irma made landfall on Marco Island as a Category 3 hurricane this afternoon, and continues to move north towards Tampa Bay.  Though the system is weakening, strong winds and storm surge remain a concern.

Irma's eye is expected to move over Hillsborough County as a Category 2 hurricane early Monday morning.  The earlier-than-anticipated landfall reduced the amount of time the storm could re-strengthen over water after brushing across Cuba.

"That's all because of Cuba, that disrupted the circulation," FOX 13 chief meteorologist Paul Dellegatto explained.  "The wind field is pretty even; it's not tightly wound up."

Forecasters say the worst of the winds will be after 2 a.m. Monday.  Gusts across the Bay Area are expected to top 90 mph, then will remain in the 60- to 70-mph range as the sun comes up.

"It's a huge wind field," Dellegatto continued.  "If you're Hernando, if you're in Highlands, if you're in eastern Polk; it's all about the same."

Storm surge will be worse to the south, possibly topping 10 feet towards Fort Myers.  A surge of 5 to 8 feet is more likely around Tampa Bay, dropping to 4 to 6 feet off the northern counties.

Irma should continue to weaken as it heads north, dropping to a tropical storm when it crosses into Georgia later Monday.

"Don't be concerned about the storm sneaking back over water and trying to intensify," Dellegatto added.  "Even if it did, it would struggle to intensify because there's so much shear."

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Irma's powerful eye roared ashore at Marco Island just south of Naples with 115-mph winds, for a second U.S. landfall at 3:35 p.m. Sunday.

Category 3 storms have winds from 111 to 129 mph, but 130-mph wind gust was recently reported by the Marco Island Police Department.

Irma's second U.S. landfall was tied for the 21st strongest landfall in the U.S. based on central pressure. Irma's first U.S. landfall in the Florida Keys was tied for 7th.

LINK: Track Hurricane Irma on MyFoxHurricane.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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