FRIDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2018
Hurricane Maria
9/20/2017 3:45:00 PM
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Post Landfall 412/6/2017 1:15:00 PM 
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Posting Date: 9/20/2017 3:45:00 PM

Meteorological Summary

Hurricane Maria closely grazed the beleaguered U.S. Virgin Islands, then took direct aim at Puerto Rico on Wednesday—thrashing some islands already left in ruins by Hurricane Irma, and razing areas that had previously escaped damage.

After tearing through Dominica Tuesday as a Category 5 storm and triggering widespread flooding in Guadeloupe, Maria weakened briefly to a Category 4, then intensified again to Category 5 as it cut west-northwest over the warm waters of the northeastern Caribbean Sea. The eyewall brushed the western edge of St. Croix in the Virgin Islands on Tuesday night, bringing waves to southern shores as high as 25 feet. Having completed an eyewall replacement cycle early this morning, Maria was downgraded slightly to Category 4 before it made landfall on Puerto Rico near the town of Yabucoa at 6:15 a.m. ET, Wednesday, with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph.

This is Puerto Rico’s first direct landfall from a Category 4 storm in 85 years since the notorious 1932 San Ciprian storm. Maria lost some organization as it interacted with Puerto Rico’s mountains and as of 11 a.m. Maria’s sustained winds had fallen to 145 mph.

Maria’s winds are causing widespread and severe damage, reportedly ripping off roofs and nonstructural elements from buildings and launching debris left from Irma’s destructive rampage the week before. Maria brought a storm surge of 6 to 9 feet to Puerto Rico, and is inundating the country with 12 to 18 inches of rain, with isolated amounts of up to 25 inches.

At least nine people are reported dead in the Caribbean from this storm, but that number may rise.

Potential and Reported Damage

Dominica received the brunt of Maria’s Category 5 winds on Monday night. The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency reports an estimated 70 to 80% damage to the building stock, as well as damage to the hospital, roads, and bridges. Communications remain sporadic and damage reports are only beginning to come in.

Hurricane-force winds across the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico caused widespread power outages. Reported impacts include damage to buildings such as broken windows, doors and roofs flying off, and damage from wind-borne debris. Trees were snapped and uprooted.

According to the National Weather Service, predicted marine conditions included seas of 20 to 30 feet, with some 40 foot seas or higher, which may have caused damage to marina structures, as well as overturned or broken boats.

Virgin Islands

St. Croix and its population of 50,000 had been the only one of the three main U.S. Virgin islands largely spared by Irma, but has now received nearly the full brunt of Maria’s impact as the eyewall clipped it, with reports slowly coming in of compromised buildings, roofs blown off, trees ripped up, and flooding. The airport, seaports, and resorts may have received damage. The island experienced five hours of hurricane strength winds, according to official reports, and sustained winds of 106 mph with a wind gust of 137 mph were reported by the National Hurricane Center. A hurricane warning remains in effect there, but conditions should gradually improve today.

Tourism, particularly from cruise ships, is the economic mainstay in the U.S. Virgin Islands. With all three islands having now suffered severe hurricane damage, many businesses will surely be disrupted.

The British Virgin Islands are still under a hurricane watch, and are braced for flooding from heavy rain, and 7 to 11 ft. storm surge.

Puerto Rico

Ahead of Hurricane Maria, evacuation orders were issued for this U.S. territory, home to 3.4 million people. Airports in Ponce and Aguadilla closed Tuesday at 6 p.m., while the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport closed at 7:00 p.m. This airport normally has 2,000 weekly international flights and connecting flights to and from the rest of the Caribbean.

It is still too soon for the full extent of damage to be known, but it is clear that there has been widespread damage to buildings and infrastructure, and some roads are blocked by downed trees and power lines. There were reports of wind-borne metal roofs and windows breaking even before dawn as the storm was heading toward landfall. Currently more than 900,000 people are without power, including some who remained without power from Irma’s passage. Some officials there are predicting entire towns may need rebuilding.

River levels are approaching or exceeding record levels across Puerto Rico, according to data from the USGS. Flooding from lashing rain is widespread, and several Puerto Rico municipalities along Rio La Plata are under severe flash flood warnings. Widespread flooding was reported in the capital of San Juan.

Puerto Rico's radar became inoperable at the height of the storm, but prior to the outage, a scientist reported it was showing extreme rainfall accumulation of greater than 25 inches near the El Yunque rain forest.

Puerto Rico had provided shelter and medical attention to thousands of residents and tourists evacuated from other islands devastated by Irma, particularly from badly damaged St. Thomas, and these people are now bearing the brunt of yet another storm. More than 10,000 are sheltering in the Puerto Rico Convention Center and other designated shelters

The widespread devastation caused by Hurricane Maria could compound the difficulties involved in the recovery process from both these disasters.

Tourism—particularly deriving from Puerto Rico’s recent growth as a business conference and event destination—is expected to be impacted for an unknown length of time.

Forecast Track and Intensity

120225_5day_cone_no_line_and_wind.pngNHC Forecast Track as of 11:00 a.m. ET. Source: National Hurricane Center

The National Weather Center reports that Maria’s center will move offshore of Puerto Rico’s northern coast by around 13:00 p.m. EST. It will then pass offshore of the Dominican Republic’s northeast coast Thursday, moving toward the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas Thursday night and into Friday.

Although its intensity is likely to fluctuate over the next few days, Maria is forecast to remain a Category 4 or stronger hurricane as it draws closer to the Dominican Republic.

A hurricane warning remains in effect for the U.S. Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Culebra, and Vieques, the Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos Islands, and the southeastern Bahamas. These areas will face wind hazards, storm surge of 7 to 11 feet, and heavy rainfall.

The AIR tropical cyclone team continues to monitor Hurricane Maria’s progress and will provide updates as warranted.

Hurricane Maria
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