With speeds around 185 mph, Irma is a Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, a commonly used scale that attempts to measure potential property damage from storm winds.
A Category 5 storm has to have winds of at least 155 mph, and they are relatively rare. With winds that strong, there is a high likelihood that framed homes could be destroyed and damage to trees and power poles will result in power outages that last for weeks.
Out of about six hurricanes that form in the Atlantic every season, only about two to three are major hurricanes, with a Saffir-Simpson rating of 3 or above.
"Easily less than one of them is a Category 5," Dorst said.
There are three main conditions that have to be present in order for a hurricane to grow and sustain itself: warm water, moisture in the mid-atmosphere, and the absence of vertical wind shear, which is when winds at different altitudes vary in speed.
Sufficiently warm water is typically abundant across the tropical Atlantic during hurricane season, but wind shear and atmospheric moisture are far less consistent.
Vertical wind shear can essentially chop a storm up into pieces — hurricanes are cyclones, and they need to maintain a certain kind of vertical structure. If winds at the top and bottom of the storm are hitting the storm at different speeds, it can become too difficult to maintain their shape.
If a fast-moving wind were to hit the top of the storm, for example, it could tilt the cyclone to a less efficient angle, or break up the storm entirely.
There is also some evidence that dry air can help suppress the development of a storm if it gets into the core, called the eyewall. The dry air is thought to suppress the process of convection — the rising of warm moist air within the eyewall that fuels the storm's growth.
But Irma is "expected to remain within low vertical wind shear, a moist mid-level atmosphere, and high upper-ocean heat content as it moves west-northwestward during the next several days," according to a forecast issued Tuesday by the National Hurricane Center.
This will allow the hurricane to stay intense over the next several days, the NHC said.