Hurricane Maria’s fierce eye is expected to pass near, but not over, the Turks and Caicos and southeastern Bahamas on Friday.
Forecasters warned the storm is still capable of pummeling the islands with dangerous winds and a storm surge that could reach 12 feet above ground level. Hurricane force winds extend 70 miles, with tropical storm winds reaching 160 miles from the center. Heavy rain is also forecast, with 8 to 16 inches possible across the islands, and up to 20 inches forecast for isolated spots.
At 11 p.m. Thursday, Maria was located 65 miles east-southeast of Grand Turk Island with sustained winds of 125 mph.
Ocean swells from the hurricane should start to reach South Florida’s eastern coast Friday. Even though Maria is forecast to remain well offshore, the storm will create dangerous surf and rip currents along the coast.
Forecasters expect Maria to remain a strong Category 3 hurricane through Friday and Saturday, with some fluctuations in intensity before gradually weakening as it encounters stronger wind shear. They can’t rule out the possibility of Maria strengthening slightly, but said in the latest storm update that they expect the storm to weaken as it reaches cooler waters Sunday.
The latest track takes the storm’s cone east of the islands, a reprieve, even while slight, for the Turks and Caicos, which got hammered by Irma earlier this month.
On Wednesday, Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico at 6:15 a.m. with sustained winds of 155 mph. As it crossed the island, winds slowed, dropping to 110 mph late in the night. Early this morning, they began to rebuild over open water.
Maria’s trailing storms also continue to dump heavy rain over Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, raising the risk of dangerous flash floods and mudslides.
The current track keeps Florida well away from the storm’s path. The East Coast should also dodge the storm, but some uncertainty remains.
In his most recent blog, Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters said over the next five days, Maria should round the edge of a high pressure system and by Tuesday is expected to weaken to a Category 1 hurricane several hundred miles off the coast of North Carolina.
Some uncertainty remains over how close Maria may pass the coast since it depends on the status of Tropical Storm Jose. As Jose weakens, he said, there’s a chance the ridge rebuilds and blocks Maria, turning it back toward the coast. Some models, he said, predict a landfall between North Carolina and New Jersey, but Masters said it’s much more likely that Jose, and a low pressure trough to the north, pull Maria out to sea.
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