Hurricane Irma grows into a monster storm

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MIAMI (AP) Hurricane Irma has strengthened into the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.

(NOAA)

The Category 5 Storm with winds of 185 miles per hour was about 180 miles east of Antigua and 295 miles east-southeast of Barbuda and was moving to the west at 14 miles per hour as it approaches the Leeward Islands of the northeast Caribbean.

The center of the storm was expected to start passing north of Antigua and near or over Barbuda on Tuesday night.

Antigua's airport has closed with an ominous statement from local authorities as Hurricane Irma approaches the Caribbean island.

The message advises all visitors and residents of the two-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda to seek protection from the "onslaught" of the Category 5 storm.

It closes with: "May God protect us all."

Four other storms have had winds that strong in the overall Atlantic region, but they have been in the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico where the usually warmer waters fuel tropical cyclones.

Hurricane Allen hit 190 miles per hour in 1980, while 2005's Wilma, 1988's Gilbert and a 1935 great Florida Key storm all had 185 mile per hour winds.

Experts say Irma's strength is a result of unusually warm water for that part of the Atlantic.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is ordering the suspension of road tolls across the state as Hurricane Irma continues its ominous move toward the region.

Scott says tolls will be suspended to keep traffic flowing as residents begin to evacuate coastal areas in the potential path of the dangerous Category 5 storm.

The governor adds that tolls will remain suspended "for the duration of the storm's impacts to Florida."

Several important Florida highways are toll roads including the Florida Turnpike, which runs from 60 miles north of Orlando all the way to Miami-Dade County.

Meanwhile Tuesday, Tropical Storm Jose has formed in the open Atlantic far from land.

Jose is located to the east of Hurricane Irma.

Jose is the 10th tropical storm of the season. It has maximum sustained winds of 40 miles per hour and is about 1,505 miles east of the Lesser Antilles.