Maria made landfall early this morning along the SE coast of Puerto Rico as a strong category four hurricane. While the wind grabs the headlines and makes for dramatic video, not only from the storm chasers and news crews, but also from the people who live there, it is the raging rivers that concern me the most.
As you will see in my morning video discussion, the excessive rain across Puerto Rico has caused historic, shocking rises on area rivers and streams, certainly resulting in catastrophic, unthinkable flooding and mudslides. This part of Maria’s onslaught cannot be emphasized enough and will be a bigger story, I believe, than the wind damage that we will see once Maria moves on.
I will have another video discussion posted early this evening after I have a chance to check out the afternoon model runs. There is some concern now that Maria could track closer to the East Coast than what previous model guidance has shown. I think it will be another day or two before know whether or not this “trend” is continuing or was just a temporary pause in the otherwise “out to sea” course that it looked like Maria was destined to take.
Maria became the 2nd category five hurricane of the 2017 season, following in the footsteps of historic hurricane Irma whose winds peaked at an astonishing 185 mph.
What exactly does category five mean? For most, it is the absolute benchmark of fear and anxiety when it comes to hurricanes. When you hear category five, you always pay attention – no matter where you live – hurricane zone or not.
The categories assigned to hurricane intensities are for wind and the potential damage that can be caused by that wind. It’s not pressure, not surge, not rain and not size. It’s all about the wind and its damage potential. A category five hurricane is capable of inflicting catastrophic damage – no doubt about it.
However, we must look at the bigger picture to understand the whole of the hurricane – not just its category. We are so fixated on the category yet most people do not understand the rest of the inner workings of the cyclone.
First of all, the hurricane force winds only extend out from the center of Maria up to 30 miles. This is the good news. The bad news is that somewhere within this wind field are extreme winds reaching 160 mph with higher gusts. The recon plane and the instruments used to measure wind and pressure cannot be everyone all at once – the convection changes, thunderstorms go up, then they go down; it is very dynamic inside the core of an intense hurricane. Luckily for us mere humans, the radius of maximum winds, in the case of Maria, is fairly small. This means that it will take a direct hit of the core to bring those unimaginable winds to any specific location. Obviously, this happened with Irma and again last night with Maria in the case of the island of Dominica.
The other aspect that gets lost when thinking of hurricanes solely by their category is the immense threat from rain and the resulting floods. If ever there was a lesson in this in recent times it was Harvey in Texas.
Harvey was an exceptional situation where by the storm slowed down and virtually stalled over the region – this led to the historic rain fall totals that exceeded 4 feet in many locations.
As for Maria, the slow movement is a problem but its the island of Puerto Rico itself that poses the biggest issue in terms of rain. Puerto Rico has mountains and those mountains are lined with beautiful tropical river systems that run through valleys and eventually reach the sea. What do you think is going to happen when 10, 15 or 25 inches of rain falls on those mountains in short order? Is there a category for that? No. If there was, it would also be a five in my opinion. The flood threat from Maria for the people, places and things in Puerto Rico is exceptional and I am very concerned about it. The wind will grab the headlines but the rain could be what Maria is ultimately remembered for. We shall see.
RAINFALL: Maria is expected to produce the following rain
accumulations through Thursday:
Central and southern Leeward Islands...10 to 15 inches, isolated 20
U.S. and British Virgin Islands...10 to 15 inches, isolated 20
Puerto Rico...12 to 18 inches, isolated 25 inches.
Northern Leeward Islands from Barbuda to Anguilla...4 to 8 inches,
isolated 10 inches.
Windward Islands and Barbados...2 to 4 inches, isolated 6 inches.
Eastern Dominican Republic...4 to 8 inches, isolated 12 inches.
I have prepared a video discussion this morning emphasizing the point about the small hurricane force wind area within Maria’s core. I will have another video update posted this afternoon after the 5pm NHC advisory package is released.
Sometimes a video is truly needed to express the gravity of a situation. Right now, we are looking at the potential for a terrible disaster to unfold for portions of the islands of the NE Caribbean Sea as hurricane Maria gains strength. If there was ever a time when people need to take something seriously – this is it.
Also, Jose is not nearly the threat that Maria is but the hurricane will bring tropical storm conditions and an array of coastal impacts to a good deal of real estate up and down the East Coast. I take a look at the latest from my hotel in Kitty Hawk, NC in this late night video update:
I have posted a video discussion covering the latest concerning Jose which is likely going to miss the East Coast in terms of direct impacts. However, the rip currents and large ocean swells are something to take seriously – check local weather sources for specific info regarding beach conditions and potential hazards.
Maria is an entirely different situation. I am VERY concerned about the well being of people in portions of the Leeward Islands as they continue to struggle day to day in recovery mode in the wake of category five hurricane Irma. The track and intensity for Maria is quite alarming and I address this and more in my evening video post:
We knew that it was only a matter of time before the hurricanes would return. After almost 12 years of relative peace and quiet, Ike, Irene and Sandy not withstanding, this season has demonstrated once again that we are most definitely vulnerable- even from multiple strikes in areas that were hit and are struggling to pick up the pieces.
Right now is the traditional peak time of hurricane season and the map certainly proves that point quite well.
Hurricane Jose 5 day forecast map from the NHC
The big story for the time being is hurricane Jose which may never cross the coastline of the U.S. but will bring substantial impacts nevertheless.
Right now the biggest issue will be continued swells and associated rip currents along the beaches from Bermuda and the Bahamas to the Southeast and up the Mid-Atlantic states. Make no mistake, these swells can be very dangerous- especially when the waves break right on the beach. Be extremely careful out there and respect the energy that is pounding the beachfront.
The other issue with Jose will be the gradual expansion of its wind field. This will push tropical storm force winds closer to the coast of North Carolina, eventually spreading north along the mid-Atlantic states into Southeast New England. We will need to wait another day or so before a clearer picture of how much wind will be expected and how far inland it is likely to penetrate. The bottom line is that Jose need not make landfall along the US coast for there to be significant impacts including property damage.
It appears that the key to how close Jose gets to the coast will be its forward speed. Evidently, the faster it is moving the more likely it will pass very close to southeast New England by mid week. It all comes down to timing – when does it not? This will definitely be another case where coastal residents and visitors needed to pay attention to the overall impacts and size of the hurricane rather than exactly where the center is forecast to track. We may see a tropical storm watch issued for parts of the North Carolina coast later today. I expect that this will continue to expand as the threat increases and expands up the East Coast.
Right now my plan is to head to the Outer Banks of North Carolina tomorrow to set up a camera system in Kitty Hawk. From there I will assess the situation but have no problem going as far as Cape Cod if need be by mid week. I will have more concerning my field coverage plans later tonight.
Meanwhile, we need to watch what is now known as invest 96L very closely. It is almost 8 shoe in to become a hurricane at some point and could impact portions of the Lesser Antilles that were devastated by Irma. It is also looking increasingly likely that areas farther west such as Puerto Rico, the Dominican republic and maybe the Bahamas could also be impacted down the road. Unfortunately the upper pattern is favorable not only for development but also for steering this future system towards the United States. It is too soon to pinpoint what area might be affected. As usual, we are going to simply have to watch and wait while we remain vigilant and prepared.
Also, in the east Pacific, hurricane Norma is barely moving near the coast of the Baja Peninsula. Obviously this poses a significant flood threat along with the typical hurricane conditions that are expected for the region.
I will post a detailed video blog concerning all of the latest goings on in the tropics late this evening.