Category 5 Hurricane Maria is a severe threat to the Caribbean, Puerto Rico; Jose to scrape Northeast coast
The wicked 2017 hurricane season is set to deliver its next two punishing blows from Hurricanes Maria and Jose. In both the Caribbean and along the Atlantic coast of the Northeast United States, conditions are set to deteriorate rapidly through Wednesday as these storms arrive.
Of the two storms, however, Maria is the much more serious hurricane - upgraded to Category 5, the most extreme level Monday evening. The "potentially catastrophic storm" with 160 mph winds has the potential to cause widespread destruction along its path from the central Lesser Antilles through Puerto Rico.
"Maria is likely to affect Puerto Rico as an extremely dangerous major hurricane, and a hurricane warning is in effect for that island," the National Hurricane Center said Monday.
While Jose is capable of producing coastal flooding and pockets of damaging wind from eastern Long Island to coastal Massachusetts, its effects are most likely to resemble those of a strong Nor'easter - rather than a devastating hurricane.
This storm has rapidly intensified which is a potentially disastrous scenario for the islands it will sweep across. At 8 p.m. Monday, it was positioned 15 miles east-southeast of Dominica, which the eye was expected pass over as it plowed west-northwest at 10 mph. It will become the first Category 5 storm to strike Dominica in recorded history.
The Hurricane Center said some additional strengthening is possible Monday night and, while fluctuations in intensity are possible over the next 36 hours, the storm could strike St. Croix and Puerto Rico as a Category 5 Wednesday.
On Monday, the storm was cutting across the islands of Dominica, Martinique, French Guadeloupe and St. Lucia, where hurricane warnings were in effect. It was also passing close to and affecting St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat, under hurricane warnings, but perhaps positioned far enough north of the storm to miss its brunt.
The worst part of the storm was likely to pass a good deal south of beleaguered Barbuda and Antigua, reeling from Hurricane Irma, but they could still get brushed by some strong wind gusts and heavy showers.
On Tuesday, Maria is predicted to mostly pass through a patch of the Caribbean free of islands before potentially closing in on St. Croix, now under a hurricane warning, late in the day or at night. This island was one of the few U.S. Virgin Islands that was spared Irma's wrath, but may well get hammered by Maria.
The other U.S. Virgin Islands as well as the British Virgin Islands will also need to carefully monitor and prepare for Maria. While they may remain north of its most severe effects, they could easily face hurricane conditions
By Wednesday, the storm is likely to pass very close to or directly affect Puerto Rico from southeast to northwest. A hurricane has not made landfall in Puerto Rico since Georges in 1998.
Just one Category 5 hurricane has hit Puerto Rico once in recorded history; and Maria could become the second if it does not lose strength. The last Category 4 storm to strike the island occurred in 1932.
The islands directly affected by the storm's core face the likelihood of destructive winds of 120 to 150 mph and 6 to 12 inches of rain (with isolated totals of 20-25 inches, especially in high terrain), which will cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.
A devastating storm surge of at least 6 to 9 feet above normally dry ground is likely to target coastlines positioned just north-northeast of the storm center - which could include the south shores of St. Croix and southeast Puerto Rico.
On Friday, the hurricane may come close to the Turks and Caicos and southeast Bahamas, which were ravaged by Irma. Beyond that point, Maria's path becomes more uncertain. Some models suggest it could find an escape route out to sea, remaining offshore from the U.S. East Coast, but it is way too early to sound the all-clear.
With Maria, the 2017 hurricane season has already featured four Category 4 or stronger storms; this has only happened four previous times by Sept. 18.
"2017 joins 1932, 1933, 1961, 2005, and 2007 as only years with multiple Cat 5s; likely to join 2007 as the only with multiple Cat 5 landfalls," tweeted MDA Federal, a meteorological consulting firm.
2017 is the first hurricane season with two Category 5 storms since 2007.
Jose, which is losing some of its tropical characteristics, is expected to behave like a strong nor'easter along the coast of the Northeast, from near Long Island to eastern Massachusetts.
The tropical storm watch was upgraded to a warning for coastal Rhode Island and eastern Massachusetts, the areas most likely to be substantially impacted by Jose. A tropical storm watch continues for areas to the south down to eastern Long Island. Farther south, along the New Jersey and Delaware coastline, the tropical storm watch was dropped.
The storm, positioned 250 miles east of Cape Hatteras, was headed north at 9 mph at 5 p.m. Monday. The storm's peak winds were around 75 mph and expected to remain at that intensity through Wednesday.
The Hurricane Center said tropical storm-force winds could begin in coastal sections of the Northeast as soon as Tuesday and Tuesday night. Moderate coastal flooding is expected with water rising up to one to three feet above normally dry land at high tide. Because the storm is a slow-mover, beaches will be assaulted for an extended duration, leading to the prospect of severe erosion.
The worst conditions are likely from eastern Long Island to eastern Massachusetts on Wednesday when these areas may get battered by the combination of heavy rain, damaging wind gusts to hurricane-force, and coastal flooding.
"Total [rain] accumulations of 3 to 5 inches are expected over eastern Long Island, southeast Connecticut, southern Rhode Island, and southeast Massachusetts, including Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket," the Hurricane Center said.
It's important to note that small changes in Jose's track could increase or decrease the intensity of effects and how far they expand inland.
"Any deviation to the left of the Hurricane Center forecast track would increase the likelihood and magnitude of impacts elsewhere along the U.S. east coast from Delaware to southern New England," the Hurricane Center said.
Irrespective of its track, dangerous surf and rip currents are expected along the East Coast through much of the week.