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Better premature than unprepared

A rare thing happened online on Wednesday: The National Hurricane Center’s hurricane-tracking page struggled under the demand of millions of people visiting the page to keep abreast of the center’s updates on Hurricane Irma.

That’s a very positive development in a week in which the Florida Keys were evacuated and the NHC issued stern advisories warning about the potential for widespread destruction from the most powerful hurricane ever to be recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.

Even as Americans clicked over to the hurricane center’s page on Wednesday, Irma was making its power clear to the world. The tiny Caribbean island of Barbuda was reduced, in the words of its president, Gaston Browne, to “a rubble,” with 90 percent of the structures there destroyed by the fierce Category 5 storm. The popular tourist destination of St. Martin was pictured with storm surge approaching the rooftops of its homes.

And Irma has not spent her fury yet.

The National Hurricane Center is forecasting a strong likelihood that the storm will impact Florida, perhaps headed toward a near-direct strike on Miami by the beginning of the week. Between now and then, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and a portion of Cuba could all be within its sights, along with the Bahamas.

After Florida, the forecast is still murky. An inland route for the storm could bring widespread flooding to Georgia and the Carolinas. A more coastal track could scrape the coastal areas from Georgia to the Outer Banks, catching Hampton Roads in the mess.

This is a powerful, dangerous storm. Lives already have been lost, and the property loss already extends into the hundreds of millions of dollars, with more likely to have occurred overnight, in the early hours of Thursday morning.

With images fresh in their minds of the still-uncalculated damage from Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana, many people across the Southeast have wisely begun watching the National Hurricane Center’s predictions. We urge you to do likewise and to begin making preparations for at least tropical storm conditions, including heavy rainfall.

If we’re fortunate, those preparations will have been premature. Better, however, to be premature in such a circumstance than to have been caught unprepared.

To follow the National Hurricane Center’s forecast, visit www.nhc.noaa.gov.