(Updates added to end of post)

The nation’s eyes are on Florida this weekend, as Hurricane Irma storms through the Sunshine State.

Once rated as a Category 5 tempest, Irma has expended enough energy buffeting the coast that it now “merely” meets Category 3 criteria.

Hurricane Irma bludgeoned Florida on Sunday, snapping trees like matchsticks and turning Miami streets into rivers.

And there’s plenty more damage to come.

Naples and Marco Island will endure some of the strongest winds in the next few hours, the National Hurricane Center said.

Irma, now a Category 3 hurricane, is bringing 120 mph winds as it hugs the southwest Florida coast.

Even more dangerous than the powerful winds could be the storm surges that threaten to swallow Florida’s coastal cities.

“The threat of catastrophic storm surge flooding is highest along the southwest coast of Florida, where 10 to 15 feet of inundation above ground level is expected,” the hurricane center said. “This is a life-threatening situation.”

Social media has been keeping apace with the storm. Interestingly, the phenomenon of “negative surge” was documented as people monitored the beach areas as Irma headed their way.

Basically, Hurricane Irma is so strong and its pressure is so low, it’s sucking water from its surroundings into the core of the storm. It happened in the Bahamas on Friday and Saturday, and now it’s happening on the Gulf Coast of Florida on Sunday.

On Saturday, the wind on Long Island in the Bahamas was blowing from southeast to northwest. So on the northwest side of the island, water was getting pushed away from the shoreline.

It also may have been experiencing the effects of what I call the hurricane “bulge.” In the center of the storm, where there is extreme low pressure, water is drawn upward. Low pressure is basically a sucking mechanism — it sucks the air into it, and when it’s really low, it can change the shape of the surface of the ocean. As the storm draws water toward the center, it gets pulled away from the surroundings.

Unlike tsunamis, in which the water recedes significantly before the waves hit, the waters should return to their normal levels relatively slowly. However, remaining on the exposed sea bed is not recommended.

As with Hurricane Harvey, we are seeing the crisis bring out the best in people. Sadly, social media is also covering some of the worst.

Looters hit a shoe store in Fort Lauderdale.

People deciding that they want to experience a major hurricane up-close-and-personal, who need to be rescued.

People abandoning their pets.

As Hurricane Irma’s outer bands inch closer to Palm Beach County, animal control officers say they are hustling to rescue abandoned animals.

And these aren’t pets who are just being left inside, Director of Animal Care Diane Suave said.

“They are left in a yard, in a pen they cannot escape from or tethered to trees or poles,” she said.

One of the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina was the need for shelters that accommodate pets. In the panhandle area of Florida, which does not appear to be on Irma’s route at this point, there are shelters opening up for horses and humans.  Additionally, animal shelters across the country are preparing for an influx of four-legged refugees.

Americans across the country will be watching Hurricane Irma, and we will pray for the safety of Floridians and for a speedy recovery from this devastating storm.

UPDATE – Sunday 6 pm Eastern/3 pm Pacific

Since this piece initially published, Irma has been further downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane and is expected to weaken further over the next 24 hours.

The National Hurricane Center said Irma’s winds were at 110 mph, just below major hurricane status, as the center of the still dangerous and wide storm moved farther inland late Sunday afternoon. It was smacking Naples after coming ashore in Marco Island at 3:35 p.m.

The hurricane center says “although weakening is forecast, Irma is expected to remain a hurricane at least through Monday morning.”

The center says the eye of Irma should hug Florida’s west coast through Monday morning and then push more inland over northern Florida and southwestern Georgia Monday afternoon.