Hurricane Maria Heads Toward Puerto Rico As A Major Storm
Updated at 8:15 p.m. ET
Hurricane Maria is now an “extremely dangerous” Category 5 storm hitting the Leeward Islands on the edge of the Caribbean Sea on Monday night, according to the National Hurricane Center. That means the storm is striking areas that are still coping with the devastation brought by Hurricane Irma two weeks ago. Forecasts call for it to pass straight over Puerto Rico on Wednesday.
Maria’s sustained maximum winds are currently at 160 mph, after rising from 90 mph earlier Monday. The eye of the storm is 15 miles east-southeast of Dominica and heading west-northwest at around 9 mph.
A hurricane warning — meaning hurricane conditions are expected to strike — has been issued for Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis and Montserrat, as well as the neighboring British and U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Culebra and Vieques.
Late Monday, President Trump issued emergency declarations for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands ordering “federal assistance to supplement the response efforts of the territory.”
A tropical storm warning is in effect for Antigua and Barbuda, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Martin, Anguilla, St. Lucia and Martinique.
An Air Force Reserve Unit Hurricane Hunter aircraft flew on a route in and around Maria Monday morning to investigate the storm’s development, the hurricane center said.
Unlike Irma, which took a relatively flat westward angle as it raked Barbuda, St. Martin, Cuba and other islands and stormed toward the Florida Keys, Maria is expected to take a sharper northwest tack, passing east of the Turks and Caicos as it heads toward the Bahamas.
Maria puts many of those same areas at risk — including the Virgin Islands, parts of which were hit by Irma’s eyewall before that storm veered north. Maria’s different approach also means that Puerto Rico and other islands that suffered only glancing blows from Irma could now be directly confronted with hurricane conditions.
On Monday morning, Puerto Rico’s emergency officials were meeting to plan their response to Maria.
“The government is prepared,” Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said via Facebook, “and we ask of the citizenship preparation, attention, and action.”
On the Saffir-Simpson wind scale, a major hurricane designates Category 3 storms and higher — hurricanes with sustained winds of at least 111 mph.
Maria fits that description and is expected to remain a major hurricane through the weekend.
Maria doesn’t have the historic size and strength of Irma, and its hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 25 miles — short of the 70 miles such winds extended from Irma’s center. But the hurricane’s storm surge and heavy rains could post grave threats, from triggering mudslides to frustrating relief and recovery efforts in places where thousands of buildings were heavily damaged by Irma.
Maria is expected to produce total rain accumulations of 10 to 15 inches in the central and southern Leeward Islands, the hurricane center says, “with isolated maximum amounts of 20 inches across the central and southern Leeward Islands, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, through Wednesday night.”
Here are the conditions the National Hurricane Center warns could be brought by a Category 4 storm:
“Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.”
Hurricane Jose, which buzzed the Leeward Islands as it moved north and west in Irma’s wake last week, has now weakened, with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph. Jose is currently about 230 miles east of Cape Hatteras, N.C., and is expected to remain off the East Coast.
With Jose stationary, “dangerous surf and rip currents are expected to continue along the east coast of the United States,” says the National Hurricane Center. A tropical storm warning is in effect for areas from Watch Hill to Hull, Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.