Update 11 p.m.: Hurricane Maria remained a strong Category 5 storm Thursday night as it approached St. Croix, just southeast of Puerto Rico.
Forecasters at The National Hurricane Center expect Maria’s to reach Puerto Rico by Wednesday morning as it continues to move west-northwest at 10 mph.
Jose weakened to a tropical storm Tuesday night with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph.
Update 8 p.m.: Maria’s sustained winds increased to 175 mph Tuesday evening as it heads northwest into the Caribbean.
Storm surges are expected to reach as high as 7-feet to 11-feet in some areas of the Leeward Islands and British Virgin Islands, as storm surges are expected to get anywhere from 6-feet to 9 feet in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Meanwhile, Jose’s path remained unchanged in its north-northeast path outside of New England and is expected to weaken starting Wednesday. As of 8 p.m., maximum sustained winds remained at 75 mph.
Update 5 p.m.: Hurricane Maria has maintained wind speeds of 165-mph, with its minimum central pressure dropping to 916 mb.
Maria is expected to be a Category 5 hurricane as it moves across the U.S. Virgin Islands tonight and Puerto Rico on Wednesday.
Maria is not expected to directly impact Florida or the U.S. coastline, but forecasters said the path depends on Hurricane Jose.
Jose, a Category 1 storm spinning off the coast of the Mid-Atlantic states and sending dangerous surf to areas in the northeast, is also forecast to hold back an area of high pressure developing over the Great Lakes.
That clockwise spinning high pressure would like to move east, but if that happened, forecasters said Maria could track further west and become a concern for the U.S. coastline.
As it is, Jose is providing a side street for Irma to sneak north sooner.
Jonathan Erdman, a senior meteorologist at Weather.com, said this is the first time he’s seen this kind of weather pattern in the two decades he’s been a forecaster.
“Jose is a nuisance along the northeast coast, but if Jose wasn’t there, and that high pressure aloft built farther east, then all of a sudden we have a much bigger threat for the east coast,” Erdman said. “We can’t sound the all-clear completely for the east coast, but there are hopeful signs with this really bizarre sequence of events.”
Update 2 p.m.: The Caribbean is being scoured by dangerous Hurricane Maria, which strengthened to 165-mph winds this afternoon.
As of the 2 p.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center, Irma was a 160-mph storm moving west-northwest at 10 mph. It was 110 miles southeast of St. Croix.
Update 11 a.m.: Hurricane Maria is closing in on Puerto Rico as a dangerous Category 5 storm with 160-mph winds.
As of the 11 a.m. update, Maria is 150 miles southeast of St. Croix and moving west-northwest at 10 mph.
Forecasters had previously thought the storm may weaken slightly before hitting Puerto Rico late tonight or Wednesday, but it is now expected to maintain Category 5 status with winds between 155 and 160 mph.
Maria is still expected to steer clear of the mainland U.S., but the National Hurricane Center did note in the 11 a.m. advisory that the track did edge slightly left.
The National Hurricane Center said forecast models remain consistent in taking Maria to the northwest away from Florida.
Hurricane Jose is partly responsible for that turn as it weakens a ridge over the western Atlantic.
Previous story: Hurricane Maria, which rapidly intensified Monday to the second Category 5 hurricane this season, is crawling toward Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands at about 9 mph.
The destructive storm with 160-mph winds is about 170 miles east of St. Croix as of the 8 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center.
Maria is currently no threat to Florida or the U.S. coast, and is expected to continue moving west-northwest with the 5-day forecast cone skimming along the eastern side of the Bahamas.
Forecasters expect Maria to be a Category 4 hurricane with 145 mph winds as it approaches Puerto Rico late tonight or early Wednesday.
Hurricane force-winds extend out up to 30 miles from the center of Maria, with tropical storm-force winds extending 125 miles. Sustained tropical storm-force winds have recently been reported in Guadeloupe and Antigua.
AccuWeather hurricane experts do not expect Maria travel as far west as Irma, but were a little less confident that Maria would veer so far away from the U.S. and Florida.
“Maria will take more of a curved path late this week and into this weekend,” AccuWeather senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski, wrote in a morning forecast. “However, a change in the orientation of the high pressure area could cause Maria to track farther west.”
Forecasters marveled at Maria’s growth from a Category 1 storm with 75 mph winds to a Cat 5 with 160 mph winds in a 24-hour period.
According to Weather Underground’s Cat 6 blog, the Atlantic has had only five other years on record with multiple Cat 5 storms in 2007, 2005, 1961, 1932 and 1933.
Maria’s minimum central pressure is 933 mb, but was as low as 924 overnight. That’s the lowest for an Atlantic hurricane this late in the calendar year since 2005’s Wilma, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach.
Air pressure is a measure of a hurricane’s intensity, the amount of power in the vacuum formed by winds roaring toward the eye. The lower the pressure, the more powerful a storm.
Klotzbach said the most Atlantic Cat 5 hurricanes in one year is four, which occurred in 2005 with Emily, Katrina, Rita and Wilma.
Maria has sufficiently warm water in front of it to maintain major hurricane strength, and has little wind shear to fight against. A major hurricane is a Category 3 through 5.
Forecasters note that fluctuations in intensity may occur with eyewall replacement cycles.
The short-lived hurricane that was Lee is back on the National Hurricane Center’s radar as a small low pressure area that could redevelop over the next five days.
The last advisory from the NHC was issued on Lee Monday when it degenerated to a remnant low.
The system is given just a 20 percent chance of becoming a tropical cyclone again, but noteworthy in that it reflects the conducive environment that helped nurture Maria to a Category 5 hurricane.