Buzz, Climate, Extreme Weather, Puerto Rico, Science, Virgin Islands

Hurricane Maria rapidly intensifies, takes aim at Puerto Rico

Islands known for their idyllic beach resorts have been reduced to rubble so far this hurricane season, after Hurricane Irma tore across the northern Leeward Islands and into the Caribbean earlier this month. Now a new storm is menacing the same region: Hurricane Maria. 

This new storm rapidly intensified on Monday morning, and and was upgraded to a Category 3 storm at 11 a.m. ET. The storm will impact some of the same islands hit hard by Irma, including Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, Martinique, and Montserrat, for example. Hurricane watches are up for Puerto Rico, Vieques, and Culebra, as well as the British and U.S. Virgin Islands. 

Many of these areas, such as St. Martin and St. John, suffered severe damage when Category 5 Hurricane Irma struck there in early September. 

While this storm is weaker than Irma was, it will still be formidable and capable of producing catastrophic damage. Because of the fragile state of infrastructure in hard hit areas, any additional strong winds and heavy rains could be enough to set back cleanup efforts and require additional evacuations. 

Unfortunately, many of the people who have evacuated St. Maarten, St. John, and St. Thomas, among other areas, have fled to Puerto Rico. The problem with this is that Hurricane Maria is headed right for that U.S. territory, and is expected to became only the fifth storm since 1851 to hit there as a Category 4 storm or greater on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane intensity scale. 

The Hurricane Center is projecting that the storm will be close to Category 5 intensity when it hits Puerto Rico on Wednesday. If it does rank as a Category 5 storm, with sustained winds greater than 155 miles per hour, it would be only the second such storm to hit that island since 1851.

Where will the storm go after Puerto Rico? 

Once Hurricane Maria passes over Puerto Rico, it is expected to weaken slightly day-by-day, largely because of less favorable atmospheric conditions that may interfere with its circulation. Computer models still disagree on the path that Maria will take, either through the Bahamas and toward the East Coast of the U.S., or possibly skirting the northern Bahamas, followed by a turn out to sea. The latter track would spare the U.S. a direct hit from a third hurricane this year. 

So-called “spaghetti plot” of various computer model projections for the track of Hurricane Maria during the next 5 days. This is not a forecast, but rather a series of simulations.

For now, though, the focus is on making sure that the islands about to be hit by this formidable storm are adequately prepared.

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