Major Hurricane Maria poses a significant threat to Irma-devastated areas in the northern Caribbean into midweek.
On Monday evening, Maria strengthened into a Category 5 hurricane on its way toward the northeastern Caribbean Sea, making it the second Category 5 storm of the season.
Power outages and structural damage are likely. Small craft should remain in port and cruise and cargo ships should avoid the area.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello tweeted that the government is working to finalize plans for Maria.
On Monday morning, Rosello declared a state of emergency after a hurricane warning was issued for the island. He also said that operations at ports would be shut down beginning on Tuesday.
At a Saturday press conference, U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp warned residents they should be prepared for Maria, the next storm to hit the islands after Irma.
Maria will be the third tropical system to impact the area in two weeks, following major hurricanes Irma and Jose during the first week of September.
Maria has sustained Category 5 strength with winds greater than 157 mph as it approaches Puerto Rico. The brisk pace of the storm means there is little time for preparations to be completed on the islands.
Some of the islands that were largely spared from Irma’s wrath will take a direct hit from the storm, including Montserrat, Guadeloupe and Martinique. Dominica was directly hit by the hurricane on Monday night.
After coming within 30 miles of St. Croix early on Wednesday morning, “Culebra, Vieques and Puerto Rico may also take a direct hit and end up with more substantial damage when compared to Irma,” according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.
“With Irma stripping much of the vegetation in the northern Leeward and Virgin Islands, there is a much greater risk of flash flooding and mudslides even if the eye wall of Maria passes by to the south,” Sosnowski said.
Even a brush with the storm’s outer spiral bands could cause more damage as debris will get tossed around, and any trees weakened by previous storms may get snapped. Cleanup efforts are likely to be hindered, while crews may be forced to suspend power restoration efforts.
Seas, rounds of torrential rain and damaging winds will increase from east to west into Thursday.
Residents should prepare for widespread tree damage, days to weeks of power outages and structural damage at the hands of a major hurricane. Well-constructed homes may sustain major roof or siding damage.
“Rainfall amounts of 100-200 mm (4-8 inches) and storm surge will lead to flooding,” AccuWeather Meteorologist Jordan Root said.
The severity of the situation over the areas devastated by Irma will depend on the storm’s exact track through the Lesser Antilles. A track farther to the north would be another significant blow to the northernmost islands.
Those that have been left homeless and do not have a means of leaving the islands will be at the mercy of the rain and wind. Debris can become flying projectiles during the storm, threatening to inflict bodily harm on anyone who is outdoors.
“The Dominican Republic, Haiti and the Turks and Caicos will be threatened with similar impacts later in the week,” Sosnowski said. “Much of the Bahamas are likely to face more substantial impact from Maria than Irma.”
Residents in these areas should already be gathering non-perishable food, batteries, flashlights, water and other necessities in case of lengthy power outages.
Boaters in the northern Caribbean should securely tie their craft in port until the hurricane has safely passed.
While it is too early to determine whether Maria will have a direct impact on the United States, all interests along the Gulf and East coasts should monitor the hurricane’s progress during the coming week.
Meanwhile, Lee continues to struggle in the far eastern Atlantic.
“Lee will not threaten any land for at least the next five days as it works its way northwestward across the open waters of the eastern and central Atlantic,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dan Pydynowski said.
In fact, Lee has nearly dissipated completely.
The tropical Atlantic is likely to remain active through much of October and into nearly the end of autumn.