The wicked 2017 hurricane season is set to deliver its next two punishing blows from Hurricanes Maria and Jose. In both the Caribbean and along the Atlantic coast of the Northeast United States, conditions are set to deteriorate rapidly through Wednesday as these storms arrive.
Of the two storms, however, Maria is the much more serious hurricane. The strengthening Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph has the potential to cause widespread destruction along its path from the central Lesser Antilles through Puerto Rico.
"Maria is likely to affect Puerto Rico as an extremely dangerous major hurricane, and a hurricane warning is in effect for that island," the National Hurricane Center said Monday.
While Jose is capable of producing coastal flooding and pockets of damaging wind from Delaware to Massachusetts, its effects are most likely to resemble those of a strong Nor'easter — rather than a devastating hurricane.
This storm is rapidly intensifying which is a troubling scenario for the islands it will sweep across. At 5 p.m. Monday, it was positioned 35 miles northeast of Martinique, plowing west-northwest at 10 mph. Its core was expected to pass near Dominica Monday evening.
The Hurricane Center predicts it come very close to if not attain Category 5 intensity Tuesday into Wednesday when it is nearing St. Croix and Puerto Rico.
"Atmospheric and oceanic conditions appear favorable for additional rapid strengthening for the next 24 hours and possibly longer," the Hurricane Center said.
On Monday, the storm was cutting across the islands of Dominica, Martinique, French Guadeloupe and St. Lucia, where hurricane warnings are in effect. It was passing close to and affect St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat, also under hurricane warnings, but perhaps positioned far enough north of the storm to miss its brunt.
The worst part of the storm is also likely to pass a good deal south of beleaguered Barbuda and Antigua, reeling from Hurricane Irma, but they may still get brushed by some strong wind gusts and heavy showers.
On Tuesday, Maria should mostly pass through a patch of the Caribbean free of islands before potentially closing in on St. Croix, now under a hurricane warning, late in the day or at night. This island was one of the few U.S. Virgin Islands that was spared Irma's wrath, but may well get hammered by Maria.
The other U.S. Virgin Islands as well as the British Virgin Islands will also need to carefully monitor and prepare for Maria. While they may remain north of its most severe effects, they could easily face hurricane conditions
By Thursday, the storm is likely to pass very close to or directly affect Puerto Rico from southeast to northwest. A hurricane has not made landfall in Puerto Rico since Georges in 1998.
Just one Category 5 hurricane has hit Puerto Rico once in recorded history; there is the outside chance Maria could become the second. The last Category 4 storm to strike the island occurred in 1932.
The islands directly affected by the storm's core face the likelihood of destructive winds of 120 to 150 mph and 6 to 12 inches of rain (with isolated totals of 20-25 inches, especially in high terrain), which will cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.
A devastating storm surge of at least 6 to 9 feet above normally dry ground is likely to target coastlines positioned just north-northeast of the storm center — which could include the south shores of St. Croix and southeast Puerto Rico.
On Friday, the hurricane may come close to the Turks and Caicos and southeast Bahamas, which were ravaged by Irma. Beyond that point, Maria's path becomes more uncertain. Some models suggest it could find an escape route out to sea, remaining offshore from the U.S. East Coast, but it is way too early to sound the all-clear.
Jose, which is losing some of its tropical characteristics, is expected to behave like a strong nor'easter along the coast of the Northeast, from near Long Island to eastern Massachusetts.
The tropical storm watch was upgraded to a warning for coastal Rhode Island and eastern Massachusetts, the areas most likely to be substantially impacted by Jose. A tropical storm watch continues for areas to the south down to eastern Long Island.
The storm, positioned 250 miles east of Cape Hatteras, was headed north at 9 mph at 5 p.m. Monday. The storm's peak winds were around 75 mph and expected to remain at that intensity through Wednesday.
The Hurricane Center said tropical storm-force winds could begin in coastal sections of the Northeast as soon as Tuesday and Tuesday night. Moderate coastal flooding is expected with water rising up to one to three feet above normally dry land at high tide. Because the storm is a slow-mover, beaches will be assaulted for an extended duration, leading to the prospect of severe erosion.
The worst conditions are likely from eastern Long Island to eastern Massachusetts on Wednesday when these areas may get battered by the combination of heavy rain, damaging wind gusts to hurricane-force, and coastal flooding.
"Total [rain] accumulations of 3 to 5 inches are expected over eastern Long Island, southeast Connecticut, southern Rhode Island, and southeast Massachusetts, including Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket," the Hurricane Center said.
It's important to note that small changes in Jose's track could increase or decrease the intensity of effects and how far they expand inland.
"Any deviation to the left of the Hurricane Center forecast track would increase the likelihood and magnitude of impacts elsewhere along the U.S. east coast from Delaware to southern New England," the Hurricane Center said.
Irrespective of its track, dangerous surf and rip currents are expected along the East Coast through much of the week.