The National Hurricane Center has released its 8 p.m. advisory. Hurricane Maria has strengthened over the past three hours, becoming a Category 5 storm, which was not originally predicted. Maria was upgraded from a Tropical Storm to a Category 1 hurricane on Sunday, and she strengthened to a Category 3 storm on Monday. She was expected to become a Category 4 before heading toward Puerto Rico, but she has strengthened even more, with sustained winds over 160 mph and even higher gusts.
According to The Weather Channel’s latest graphic, Hurricane Maria is currently 15 miles east southeast of Dominica, moving west northwest at 9 mph.
The National Weather Service has issued hurricane warnings for Puerto Rico, Culebra and Vieques and remains in effect for the British, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat and Martinique.
The latest update from the NWS has confirmed that Maria is a “catastrophic storm,” as she rummages through some of the same islands that Hurricane Irma destroyed earlier this month.
Hurricane Maria is expected to lose a little bit of steam as she makes her way toward Puerto Rico, but she will bring very heavy rains (some areas will see 2 feet!) and high, gusty winds to the island in the coming days. Although the latest tracks do show Maria being downgraded to a Category 4 just before she arrives in Puerto Rico, it is entirely possible that she could retain her strength and reach Puerto Rico as a Category 5. Either way, this storm is going to be completely devastating for the island.
After Maria passes Puerto Rico, she will head more to the north. She is not expected to make landfall in Hispaniola or in the Bahamas. Although several Caribbean islands will feel the effects of Maria, nations like the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba will more than likely skirt the worst of this storm.