In a period of just about 3 weeks, the United States is looking at third direct impact from a major hurricane, and sadly, it appears another catastrophe is imminent with a direct strike from Major Hurricane Maria expected for the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Efforts to protect life and property there should be rushed to completion immediately; Hurricane Maria has the potential to be the most destructive hurricane to impact the region since 1928.
Yesterday, Major Hurricane Maria struck Dominica, leaving the island in shambles. Interaction of the small core of Maria with the mountainous terrain of Dominica caused only a slight diminution of the intensity of the hurricane. Data from the Air Force Hurricane Hunter aircraft after the center passed the island indicate an intensity of about 135 kt, at the high end of category 4 strength. Another Air Force aircraft investigating Maria this morning found that Maria had rebounded and regained Category 5 strength.
Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit took to Facebook to share news of devastation there. He wrote, ” Initial reports are of widespread devastation. So far we have lost all what money can buy and replace. My greatest fear for the morning is that we will wake to news of serious physical injury and possible deaths as a result of likely landslides triggered by persistent rains. So, far the winds have swept away the roofs of almost every person I have spoken to or otherwise made contact with. The roof to my own official residence was among the first to go and this apparently triggered an avalanche of torn away roofs in the city and the countryside.”
“Come tomorrow morning we will hit the road, as soon as the all clear is given, in search of the injured and those trapped in the rubble. I am honestly not preoccupied with physical damage at this time, because it is devastating…indeed, mind boggling. My focus now is in rescuing the trapped and securing medical assistance for the injured. We will need help, my friend, we will need help of all kinds.” The Prime Minister added, “It is too early to speak of the condition of the air and seaports, but I suspect both will be inoperable for a few days. That is why I am eager now to solicit the support of friendly nations and organisations with helicopter services, for I personally am eager to get up and get around the country to see and determine what’s needed.”
Major Hurricane Maria will be moving through an environment that fosters strong hurricanes. In general, Maria is moving through a low-shear atmospheric environment and mainly over warm waters for the next couple of days. Some fluctuations in intensity are possible in the early part of the forecast period due to eyewall replacement events. Land influences could cause some weakening within the next 36 hours according to the NHC, but later in the forecast period, a modest increase in vertical shear could cause some weakening.
The general forecast direction of Major Hurricane Maria remains unchanged. A weak ridge situated over the western Atlantic is expected to steer Maria west-northwestward through 48 hours, and on this track the center of the hurricane is forecast to pass near or over the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Wednesday. After that time, the western portion of the ridge is forecast to weaken, partially due to the influence of the large circulation of
Hurricane Jose. This should cause Maria to turn northwestward, then north-northwestward by the weekend.
The National Hurricane Center wants the public to know these key messages with regard to this major hurricane:
- Maria will affect portions of the northern Leeward Islands as an extremely dangerous major hurricane during the next day or so.
- Maria is likely to affect Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands as an extremely dangerous major hurricane tonight and Wednesday. Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.
- A life-threatening storm surge, accompanied by large and destructive waves, is expected for the Leeward Islands, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.
- Life-threatening flash floods and mudslides from heavy rainfall are expected across the Leeward Islands, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.
It is still too soon to say with certainty where Major Hurricane Maria will go beyond five days. While the future evolution of Hurricane Jose will influence Maria’s track, to what extent remains complex and uncertain.