This story has been updated to include information from the 5 a.m. National Hurricane Center report.
Hurricane Maria rolled over the Turks and Caicos islands Friday, bringing dangerous storm surges and possibly dumping up to 20 inches of rain in some areas on a path that next takes aim on the Bahamas before moving north into the Atlantic.
The weekend course for Maria remains uncertain. Forecasts by the National Hurricane Center have the hurricane moving between Bermuda and the U.S. coast, but other weather systems are at play on whether Maria strays closer to the Atlantic seaboard.
At 5 a.m. Friday, Hurricane Maria had winds of 125 mph, which made the storm a Category 3. It’s expected to at least maintain that intensity — and possibly strengthen — in the coming days as it tracks northwest.
Impacts in the Turks and Caicos and Southeast Bahamas include torrential rainfall — widespread totals of 8 to 16 inches with up to 20 inches in the high elevations. This could lead to deadly flash flooding and mudslides in the mountainous areas of Hispaniola.
The storm surge is forecast to reach 4 to 6 feet above normally dry land in the northeast Dominican Republic and up to a devastating 10 to 15 feet in the southeast Bahamas and Turks and Caicos, near and just north of where the center passes.
Most forecast models suggest that the storm will turn away from the East Coast early next week. As the remnants of Hurricane Jose stall near New England, its counterclockwise winds will help push Maria to the east.
However, it’s still too soon to say Maria is not a threat to the East Coast. If Jose weakens very quickly, or if it doesn’t stall the way forecast models are suggesting, Hurricane Maria would have the opportunity to track closer to the East Coast midweek.
In any case, dangerous surf and rip currents are likely along the East Coast beaches this weekend and into next week.
Maria devastates Puerto Rico
Hurricane Maria tore across Puerto Rico on Wednesday, unleashing destructive winds, which knocked out power to the entire island, and “catastrophic” flooding.
Even though the winds had diminished somewhat Wednesday evening, torrential rain over Puerto Rico had emerged as the most severe danger. The National Weather Service in San Juan reported incredible rainfall rates of up to 5 to 7 inches per hour Wednesday morning. The Hurricane Center described ongoing flash flooding as “catastrophic.” Rivers on the island had rapidly risen, some reaching record levels in a matter of hours.
El río d nuestro barrio Borinquén d Guayama parece un animal
Posted by Cruz Rodriguez Keila on Wednesday, September 20, 2017
On Thursday morning, 10 of 27 river gauges on Puerto Rico were reporting “major flooding” and flash flood warnings covered all but the southwest portion of the island.
Rainfall estimates exceed 20 inches in most areas. Some gauges recorded amounts to around 30 inches, including 33.58 inches in La Plaza, and 28.70 inches in Cidra.
As the storm made landfall early Wednesday morning along the southeast coast of Puerto Rico, a National Ocean Service tide gauge at Yabucoa Harbor, Puerto Rico, reported a rise of 5.3 feet above the normal high tide.
Wind reports became scarce by 8 a.m. as wind sensors and/or their transmission signals failed, but numerous locations clocked gusts over 110 mph, including in San Juan.
Effects in St. Croix and U.S. Virgin Islands
Early Wednesday morning, sustained winds reached 106 mph and gusts were reported up to 137 mph in St. Croix. Between 10 and 11 p.m. Tuesday, St. Croix’s airport on the southwest part of the island reported gusts up to 92 mph before the wind sensor stopped reporting.
While St. Croix was hit hard and damage was extensive, the storm’s inner eyewall containing its most violent winds just missed to the south — sparing the island the worst of its fury.
The storm passed even farther to the south of St. Thomas, but social media photos showed significant flooding on the island:
Hurricane Maria’s place in history
When Maria slammed ashore near Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, at 6:15 a.m. Wednesday with 155 mph winds, it became the first Category 4 storm to directly strike the island since 1932. It was the first hurricane of any intensity to make landfall there since Georges in 1998.
Maria’s landfall pressure of 914 millibars in Puerto Rico was the third-lowest on a record for a hurricane striking the U.S. The lower the pressure, the stronger the storm.
On Tuesday evening, Maria’s pressure dropped to 909 millibars, ranking among the 10 lowest in recorded history in the Atlantic.
— Eric Fisher (@ericfisher) September 19, 2017
Its maximum sustained winds, which reached 175 mph, also ranked among the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record.
At 9:35 p.m. Monday, Maria became the first Category 5 storm to strike Dominica in recorded history, leaving behind widespread destruction.
In just 18 hours Monday, the storm strengthened from a minimal Category 1 storm to a Category 5 monster. Its pressure dropped 52 millibars in 18 hours, “one of the fastest deepening rates on record behind Ike, Rita, Gilbert, & Wilma,” tweeted Tomer Burg, an atmospheric science graduate student at SUNY-Albany.
Maria is the latest powerhouse storm in what has become a hyperactive hurricane season. The 2017 hurricane season has already featured four Category 4 or stronger storms; this has only happened four previous times by Sept. 18. Three of these storms made landfall in the U.S. at Category 4 intensity (Harvey, Irma and Maria), which is unprecedented in the modern record.
Brian Murphy contributed to this report.