Tropical Storm Maria stengthens in Atlantic

Tropical Storm Maria became the 12th named storm Saturday. Image courtesy NHC

Sept. 17 (UPI) — Tropical Storm Maria is forecast to become a hurricane Sunday and move to Caribbean islands hit by Hurricane Irma, the National Hurricane Center said.

Maria, which became the 12th named storm in the Atlantic on Saturday, gained strength and became better organized overnight.

In its 8 a.m. Sunday advisory, the NHC said Maria was 405 miles east-southeast of the Lesser Antilles with sustained winds of 65 mph. The storm was moving west-northwest at 15 mph and expected to reach the Leeward Islands on Monday night. Tropical storm winds extend up to 70 miles.

When wind speeds reac 74 mph, they are classified as hurricanes.

Several islands battered by Category 5 Irma earlier this month are under hurricane watches: St. Martin and St. Bart’s, Antigua, Barbuda, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Saba, St. Eustatius and Anguilla.

NHC forecasters say Maria will likely intensify to a major Category 3 storm with sustained winds topping 125 mph on Thursday, bringing dangerous wind, storm surge and rainfall hazards.

It is forecast to weaken after it hits the Lesser Antilles and the Virgin Islands but then regain strength as it approaches Puerto Rico on Thursday and the Dominican Republic on Friday.

Early models show Maria moving toward Florida and up the U.S. East Coast, but forecasts are far in advance.

“Until the reconnaissance aircraft investigates Maria, the initial intensity will be a little uncertain, NHC forecaster Robbie Berg said. “Regardless, the storm is with an environment of very low shear and over sea surface temperatures around 29 degrees Celsius [84 degrees Fahrenheit], so steady strengthening is expected during the next few days.


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