Hurricane Maria Forecast to Pose a Potentially Serious Threat to Lesser Antilles, Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands

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Maria is the seventh hurricane of the 2017 Atlantic season.

Hurricane conditions are possible from the Lesser Antilles to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico this week.

Maria could strengthen to a major hurricane (Category 3 or stronger) before reaching the Leeward Islands.

It's possible that Maria could intensify to a Category 4 hurricane as it bears down on Puerto Rico midweek.

It's too soon to determine whether Maria will ever directly impact the United States, but it will be monitored closely.

Hurricane Maria continues to intensify and will likely pose a major threat to the Lesser Antilles, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico this week, including some of the same areas that were hard-hit by Hurricane Irma.

Maria is currently located about 100 miles northeast of Barbados and is moving west-northwest at 10 to 15 mph.

The highest cloud tops, corresponding to the most vigorous convection, are shown in the brightest red colors. Clustering, deep convection around the center is a sign of a healthy tropical cyclone.

Atmospheric conditions are favorable for Maria to grow into a dangerous major hurricane (Category 3 or stronger) as it passes through the northeast Caribbean Islands due to a combination of low wind shear, a moist atmosphere and warm ocean temperatures.

It's too early to know whether Maria will pose a threat to the United States, but it will be monitored closely for many days to come.

The red-shaded area denotes the potential path of the center of the tropical cyclone. Note that impacts (particularly heavy rain, high surf, coastal flooding) with any tropical cyclone may spread beyond its forecast path.

A hurricane warning is now in effect for Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat and Martinique. A tropical storm warning has been issued for Antigua, Barbuda, Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Lucia.

Hurricane watches have been issued for the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Maarten, St. Martin, St. Barthelemy and Anguilla.

Tropical storm watches have been posted for Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

A watch means hurricane or tropical storm conditions are possible within 48 hours. A warning means those conditions are expected within 36 hours.

Leeward Islands Impacts

Conditions are likely to deteriorate starting Monday in the Leeward Islands, with hurricanes conditions possible starting Monday night and continuing through Tuesday. This includes locations in the northern Leeward Islands that were devastated by Hurricane Irma.

The strength of the winds in any one location will be determined by how much Maria intensifies and the exact path it moves along through the northern Leeward Islands.

Rainfall totals of 6 to 12 inches are possible in the central and southern Leeward Islands through Tuesday night, with locally up to 20 inches in some spots.

Maria is also expected to produce 2 to 4 inches of rain, with locally up to 8 inches, over the remaining northern Leeward Islands from Barbuda to Anguilla, as well as in the Windward Islands and Barbados.

This amount of rain could cause life-threatening flash flooding and mudslides.

A storm surge of 5 to 7 feet above normal tide levels is expected in the hurricane warning area.

High surf and dangerous rip currents are already impacting the Lesser Antilles.

Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands and Hispañiola Impacts

Maria is expected to be a dangerous hurricane, potentially a Category 4, as it tracks near or on either side of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Hispañiola into midweek.

Conditions may begin to deteriorate starting Tuesday in the Virgin Islands and then spread west toward Puerto Rico by Wednesday. Portions of the Dominican Republic and Haiti could see impacts from Maria begin as early as Thursday.

The extent of any wind or storm-surge impacts will be dictated by the exact strength and path of Maria at that time.

Heavy rain will also be a threat and could contribute to flooding and mudslides. Parts of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands may see 6 to 12 inches of rain, with locally up to 20 inches in some areas, through Wednesday night.

Additional details on the threats from Maria to Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Hispañiola will be provided as they become available.

Residents and visitors in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands should be making preparations right now for a potential major hurricane strike.

Only three times before have two hurricanes passed within 75 nautical miles of the Virgin Islands during the same hurricane season.

Will Maria Threaten the United States?

In short, we cannot determine at this time whether Maria will directly impact the United States.

Whether Maria will ever pose a threat to the U.S. will depend on steering currents in the upper atmosphere over the western Atlantic Ocean and the eastern United States that cannot be pinned down more than a week in advance.

Interestingly, the potential for Jose to stall off the Northeast coast this weekend could play some role in determining Maria's long-term future path.

Also, if Maria interacts with the higher terrain of Puerto Rico and/or Hispañiola, that could also affect its future track and intensity.

If Maria would strike the U.S., and again, that is not by any means a certainty, that would not happen until the final week of September.

For now, all residents along the East Coast and Gulf Coast should monitor the progress of Maria.

Source: weather

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