JUST IN: Sobering new image of Lake O harmful algae bloom

A satellite image taken Sunday of the spreading concentration of cyanobacteria on Lake Okeechobee shows a majority of the lake covered in the harmful algae.

The image, provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and released by the South Florida Water Management District, comes as a two-day break in lake discharges to the northern estuaries ended Monday.

The Army Corps of Engineers is discharging lake water in pulses hoping to give the brackish estuaries some time to refill their salinity levels before another flush of fresh lake water. No water was released Saturday or Sunday.

READ: Q&A on harmful algae blooms 

John Campbell, a spokesman for the Corps, said the discharges to the St. Lucie Estuary are a 35 percent reduction from those that began June 1.

But he said the lake is rising again after a break in rains had allowed it to level off.

“The recession has stopped, so even though we decreased discharges we are seeing the lake is no longer dropping,” Campbell said Monday. “We got to 14 feet, but never below 14 feet.”

On Monday, Lake Okeechobee was 14.10 feet above sea level. The Corps prefers to keep it between 12.5 and 15.5 feet above sea level to maintain the integrity of the Herbert Hoover Dike, which protects Glades-area communities from flooding.

While the lake is within that comfort level, a single tropical system can push lake levels up 1 to 3 feet in a matter of weeks.

“The good news at this point, if there is any, is the lake is not currently rising at the rate it was at the end of May,” Campbell said.

RELATED: Septic tanks contributing factor for Treasure Coast water woes

Algae collects along the the shore of Shepard Park on the St. Lucie River near downtown Stuart June 12, 2018. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

According to the EPA, drinking, swallowing or swimming in water with toxic cyanobacteria can cause stomach, liver, respiratory and neurological problems, as well as rashes. Cyanobacteria can also get so abundant that when they die, the decomposition can remove oxygen from the water and kill fish.

Not all cyanobacteria is toxic, but a handful of samples taken this month have tested positive for very low levels of toxins in amounts not considered harmful by the World Health Organization.

Last week, state and federal officials took emergency measures to reduce the amount of discharges to the estuaries by sending more lake water south and out to the ocean.

Any harmful algae near an area where water is being discharged from the lake will travel with it through the system.

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“The more of the lake it covers, the harder it is to keep it from ending up where you don’t want it,” said NOAA algae researcher Richard Stumpf.

While there may be a bloom on Lake Okeechobee, the lake is not considered polluted or toxic. It is heavy with phosphorus and nitrogen from runoff, which makes it “eutrophic” or rich in nutrients.

Blue-green algae thrives in high-nutrient water.

Karl Haven, director of Florida Sea Grant at the University of Florida, said the southwest area of the lake traditionally sees the most blooms because it is less turbid, meaning more light can penetrate the water column.

“We’ve seen blooms now three years in a row and it might just be a coincidence of the weather, with a lot of rain in the spring and hot days with lots of sunshine,” Haven said. “But it’s not just Mother Nature. It’s the nutrients in the system that were not there before people started to develop the land.”

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UPDATE: Heavy rains, flooding possible overnight in Palm Beach County

UPDATE, 9:50 p.m.: A flood watch for Palm Beach County has been extended until 11 a.m., according to the National Weather Service. The watch covers a wide swath of South Florida, including Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Although the area was spared of heavy rainfall most of Saturday, that is expected to change tonight. Heavier rains over the Atlantic Ocean are forecast to shift west into the east coast later tonight, possibly growing more intense after 2 a.m.

WATCH: Check out the live weather radar

There’s a 90 percent chance of showers in Palm Beach County on Sunday, with locally heavy rainfall possible. It will also be breezy, with southeast winds around 15 to 20 mph and high temperatures around 80, forecasters say.

RELATED: What weather ‘watches’ and ‘warnings’ mean

More rain is expected in Palm Beach County today and Sunday. Spectators cover up in the rain at the spring jamboree football tournament at Palm Beach Lakes High School in West Palm Beach on May 19, 2018. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

UPDATE, 6 p.m.: The steady rain that has washed over most of South Florida today is expected to intensify a bit for coastal Palm Beach County for a few hours today starting at around 7 p.m.

“People along the coast are likely to see the heaviest activity. There may be a few rumbles of thunder,” Arlene Moses, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami, said at 6 p.m. today.

A flood watch remains in effect until midnight for Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

The near-constant rain should start to disappear early in the week, meaning that Sunday will look a lot like Saturday.

“If you are hoping for sun, I don’t think I can promise you that,” Moses said about Sunday’s forecast.

“Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday will be a little drier, closer to seasonal norms where it won’t be rainy and cloudy all day. As we get to Tuesday and Wednesday, the closer you are to the coast the drier you are likely to be.”

Saturday’s drenching has been heaviest in northeast part of the county, Moses said. As of 6 p.m. today, parts of Tequesta recorded 4.25 inches, Juno Beach had 3.75 inches and parts of Jupiter had 2.3 inches. At Palm Beach International Airport, the total has been about 1.3 inches.

ORIGINAL STORY: A flood watch has been issued for Palm Beach County until midnight by the National Weather Service in Miami.

“We see another wave of moderate rainfall that will last a few hours into the late Saturday afternoon,” said Andrew Hagen, a NWS meteorologist. “We’re mainly only having light rain over most of the area.”

Hagen said that Palm Beach County should be getting about an inch more of rain on Saturday. Thunderstorms with frequent lightning are possible throughout Saturday night.

Under a moderate-level flood watch, significant flooding of roadways is expected and there is a possibility of water entering into structures.

Jupiter and Tequesta, Hagen said, has had two inches of rain, but everywhere else in the county has had less than that. “We haven’t issued any flash flood warnings or flood advisories as of yet,” Hagen said.

Martin County, just north of the Palm Beach County border is already under a flood advisory. Some areas that will experience flooding include Port Saint Lucie, Fort Pierce and Stuart. The roads are also hazardous. On I-95 between the Martin County line and Jupiter at around 2 p.m. there were five cars in grass median, two overturned. Florida Highway Patrol was at the scene of two of the accidents.

As for Sunday, Hagen said there’s a high chance of rain for the first part of Sunday as the trough moves toward the Gulf of Mexico. “We may get some clearing later in the day,” he said. “But that’s uncertain.”

UPDATE: SpaceX lifts off from Kennedy Space Center

SpaceX is launching the Zuma spacecraft from Kennedy Space Center

SpaceX lauched the Zuma spacecraft from Kennedy Space Center tonight at 8 p.m.
RELATED: SpaceX launches secret satellite on 1st flight of year


SEE THE LIVE WEBCAST

The Zuma had repeated launch delays since November.

Its mission is a mystery, but it has been identified as a government payload managed by Northrop Grumman, according to Florida Today.

Later this month, the company is planning a test flight for what will be the world’s most powerful rocket. SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said that at 2,500 tons of thrust, the Falcon Heavy is equal to 18 Boeing 747 aircraft at full throttle.

System bringing rain to South Florida has low chance of forming; system near Mexico has better chance

8 p.m. UPDATE: The shower and thunderstorm activity over the southwestern Caribbean
is beginning to show some signs of organization and now has a 70 percent chance of becoming a tropical system over the next five days, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Conditions are forecast to steadily become more conducive for development, and the system is expected to become a tropical depression within the next few days, according to the hurricane center’s 8 p.m. tropical weather outlook. There’s a 50 percent chance of development over the next 48 hours.

The large disturbance should move slowly northwestward to northward across or near the eastern portions of Nicaragua and Honduras, then into the northwestern Caribbean on Thursday or Friday, forecasters say. It’s likely to emerge over the southern Gulf of Mexico by the weekend.

Interests in Nicaragua and Honduras should monitor the progress of this system over the next couple of
days. An Air Force Reserve reconnaissance aircraft is scheduled to investigate the disturbance Wednesday afternoon, if necessary.

The next tropical outlook will be issued at 2 a.m.

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Meanwhile, a trough of low pressure extending northward from Cuba continues to produce disorganized showers and thunderstorms across South Florida, the northwestern Bahamas, and the adjacent Atlantic waters.

RELATED: South Florida to stay wet, windy all week as king tides near

Wind gusts of 40 to 50 mph have been recorded in some of the heavier showers, the hurricane center said.

Although significant development of this system is not expected due to strong upper-level winds, brief squalls will likely produce locally heavy rainfall and strong gusty winds over portions of the Bahamas and South Florida during the next couple of days. There’s just a 10 percent chance of tropical development.

RELATED: Delray preps for King Tide coastal flooding and a super soaking

Continue reading “System bringing rain to South Florida has low chance of forming; system near Mexico has better chance”

UPDATE: 20% chance of rain tonight, 40% tomorrow in PBC

8 p.m. update: An area of low pressure has developed near the northeastern coast of Florida between Daytona Beach and St. Augustine with near gale-force winds. There’s a 20 percent chance it will development into a tropical cyclone due to unfavorable upper-level winds.

However, gusty winds and locally heavy rains are likely over portions of northeastern Florida and
southeastern Georgia tonight and Sunday.

2 p.m. update: Heavy rainfall will likely continue over portions of western Cuba, the Florida Keys, and the Florida peninsula during the next several days while a large low-pressure system moves generally westward.

The trough of low pressure extends from the Yucatan peninsula northeastward across the eastern Gulf of Mexico to a weak low over north Florida. Environmental conditions are not conducive for development
and tropical cyclone formation is not anticipated.

In Palm Beach County, there’s a 20 percent chance of rain tonight under mostly cloudy skies. Expect lows in the upper 70s and southeast winds around 5 mph.

On Sunday, the forecast calls for a mostly cloudy morning and partly sunny afternoon with a 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms.

The high will be in the upper 80s, with easterly winds around 10 to 15 mph, according to the forecast.

PREVIOUS STORY:

The chance of a tropical system forming over Florida in the next 48 hours has decreased to 20 percent, but stormy conditions are still possible over the weekend, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Environmental conditions have become less favorable for tropical development, but locally heavy rainfall and thunderstorms are forecast in the next several days over portions of western Cuba, the Florida Keys, and the Florida peninsula.

Post in Puerto Rico: Island struggles after Hurricane Maria

Today there is a 50 percent chance of rain and thunderstorms with a southeast wind 5 to 11 mph. Skies will be partly sunny, with high temperatures near 88. Afternoon thunderstorms could bring rainfall amounts between a tenth and quarter of an inch, according to the National Weather Service.

Tonight the chance of rain decreases to 40 percent with mostly cloudy skies. On Sunday, there is a 50 percent chance of rain with mostly cloudy skies. Wind gusts could reach up to 20 mph with temperatures reaching 88.

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UPDATE: Possible tropical system drenches South Florida

Update 8 p.m.: The weak low-pressure area over Florida is interacting with an upper-level low to produce a large but disorganized area of cloudiness and showers extending from the northwestern Caribbean northward through most of the state, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Environmental conditions appear to be marginally conducive for some additional development before the upper-level winds become unfavorable early next week, according to the center’s 8 p.m. tropical weather outlook. The chance of a tropical system forming over the next five days is 40 percent.

Regardless of development, the system is likely to produce locally heavy rainfall over portions of western Cuba, the Florida Keys, and the Florida peninsula during the next several days while the system moves northwestward to northward, according to the NHC. The next tropical outlook will be issued at 2 a.m.

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In Palm Beach County: Rain likely tonight, Saturday

Showers are likely through the night in Palm Beach County under mostly cloudy skies, according to the National Weather Service forecast. The chance of rain is 70 percent. Expect lows in the mid-70s and southerly winds around 5 to 10 mph.

On Saturday, the forecast calls for partly sunny skies in the morning, then mostly cloudy with a 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms in the afternoon. Look for highs in the upper 80s and southeast winds around 10 to 15 mph.

Continue reading “UPDATE: Possible tropical system drenches South Florida”

Hurricane center watching area south of Florida for development

8 p.m. UPDATE: The area of disturbed weather associated with a trough of low pressure over the northwestern Caribbean is forecast to move slowly north-northwestward across Cuba and the Straits of Florida during the next day or so, according to the National Hurricane Center’s latest tropical outlook.

Some development is possible when it moves near Florida or the northwestern Bahamas on Friday or Saturday before upper-level winds become less favorable early next week. Regardless, it’s likely to produce locally heavy rainfall over portions of Cuba, southern Florida, the Florida Keys, and the Bahamas during the next several days, the hurricane center says.

The chance of development over the next five days remains at 20 percent. The next tropical outlook will be issued at 2 a.m.

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ORIGINAL STORY:

The National Hurricane Center has identified an area of low pressure over the northwestern Caribbean Sea as a spot to watch for potential tropical development.

The pocket of disturbed weather is forecast to move north-northwest across Cuba and the Florida Straits during the next couple of days.

Forecasters give it just a 20 percent chance of development over five days before upper-level winds become less accommodating for something to spin up.

Regardless of development, this system is likely to produce locally heavy rainfall over portions of Cuba, South Florida, the Florida Keys and the Bahamas during the next several days.

If a tropical storm did form, it would be named  Nate.

This is the time of year when hurricanes become more home grown, forming in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. It’s also when Florida is especially vulnerable because upper-level winds often blow storms west into the state.

“We have to turn our attention closer to home,” said Greg Postel, a hurricane expert at The Weather Channel. “In October, Mother Nature likes to put the ingredients for storms in the western Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean.”

Nine hurricanes of Category 3 or higher have hit South Florida in October since records began in the late 1800s.

Those include six hurricanes that made landfall on the west coast, and three at the tip of Florida or on the southeast coast.

Category 3 or higher hurricane strikes on South Florida during the month of October.

5 a.m. UPDATE: Hurricane Maria still Cat 5 strength as it heads toward Puerto Rico

5 a.m. update: Hurricane Maria is headed toward the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico as a Category 5 hurricane.

Maria has sustained top winds of 155 mph, and is moving west northwest at 9 mph.

11 p.m. Monday update: Hurricane Maria is moving over Dominica as it holds its status as a Category 5 hurricane.

Maria has sustained top winds of 160 mph, and is moving west northwest at 9 mph.

The eye is expected to move over the northeastern Caribbean Sea on Tuesday and approach the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico Tuesday night and Wednesday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The storm is forecast remain a major hurricane into the weekend.

8 p.m. update: Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter aircraft data indicate Hurricane Maria has intensified into an “extremely dangerous” Category 5 hurricane with top winds of 160 mph.

Some gusts are even higher. The storm has moved within about 15 miles southeast of Dominica.

It is still traveling about 9 mph northwest.

“The potential for a life-threatening storm surge, accompanied by large and destructive waves, has increased for the Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico,” an 8 p.m. advisory from the National Weather Service said.

5 p.m. update: Hurricane Maria has become a Category 4 storm with top winds of 130 mph, threatening islands already pounded by Hurricane Irma and leaving exhausted Floridians hoping projections hold up that it will turn north into the Atlantic Ocean.

 

By late Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center expects sustained winds to reach 155 mph  within shouting distance of Category 5 strength of at least 157 mph.

“Atmospheric and oceanic conditions appear favorable for additional rapid strengthening for the next 24 hours and possibly longer,” forecasters said in a 5 p.m. advisory. They noted “it is possible that the hurricane could reach category 5 status.”

Some weakening is possible after that, but a big issue for Florida will be the storm’s track.

It is traveling about 9 mph west and north, about 45 miles east and south of Dominica.

The official forecast track extends less than a week. Most projections beyond that see it missing Florida.

Still,  Irma forced forecasters to keep revising their maps before it ultimately hit the state. Understandably, nerves remain a bit on edge. It is too soon to forecast that far out with much accuracy. “Spaghetti” models like the one below from weathernerds.org manage to throw a few noodles into the discomfort zone.

 

 

2 p.m. UPDATE: Hurricane Maria’s strongest sustained winds have increased to 125 mph and its eye is expected to move through the Leeward Islands late this afternoon or evening, the National Hurricane Center said.

Maria remains a Category 3 storm, with top winds increasing about 5 mph since the last update. The track currently steers it northwest and  potentially into the Atlantic Ocean, short of Florida. It is moving northwest at 10 mph, about 45 miles northeast of Martinique.

Meanwhile, Jose is sustaining Category 1 hurricane status. bringing swells and three to five inches of rain to the U.S. east coast. Far to the east, Lee is hanging on as a tropical depression but is expected to lose strength.

 

11 a.m. UPDATE: Maria now a major hurricane; northeastern U.S. braces for Jose

As forecast tracks continued to steer Maria – now a major hurricane – away from a potential collision with Florida, the northeastern United States began to brace for a sideswipe from Jose.

At 11 a.m. top sustained winds for Maria – which became a tropical storm Saturday and a hurricane Sunday – had now reached 120 mph, making it a Category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

At 11 a.m., it was about 60 miles east of Martinique, and its eye was expected to move through the Leeward Islands late either in the late afternoon or early evening Monday.

A hurricane warning was posted at 11 a.m. for the U. S. and British Virgin Islands and a tropical-storm warning for Anguilla. Watches and warnings already were up for most of the islands of the eastern Caribbean, all places smashed by Hurricane Irma several days ago.

“Additional rapid strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours, and Maria is expected to be a dangerous major hurricane as it moves through the Leeward Islands and the northeastern Caribbean Sea,” the 11 a.m. advisory said.

Robert Molleda, forecaster at the National Weather Service’s Miami office, said Monday morning that the “most probable track stays east of Florida through 5 days. Continue close watch this week.”

At 11 a.m., a tropical-storm warning for Jose was posted for the Northeast coastline from Watch Hill, R.I., to Hull, Mass., including Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket. Tropical-storm watches and warnings already were in effect for much of the East Coast, stretching from Delaware to New England.

Jose was about 265 miles east-southeast of Cape Hatteras in North Carolina and was crawling north at 9 mph. It had top sustained winds of 75 mph, just under the threshold of hurricane status.

“The center of Jose is forecast to pass well offshore of the Outer Banks of North Carolina today, pass well east of the Delmarva Peninsula tonight and Tuesday, and pass well to the east of the New Jersey coast on Wednesday,” an advisory said. It forecast “little change in strength” through Wednesday.

Lee, meanwhile, was barely hanging on a tropical depression, far out in the Atlantic. It was forecast to degenerate into a remnant low on Tuesday.

8 a.m. UPDATE: Hurricane Maria nearing down on Martinique

At 8 a.m Monday, Hurricane Maria was just 85 miles east of Martinique and was moving west-northwest at 12 mph. It had top sustained winds of 110 mph and is now a Category 2 hurricane.

A hurricane warning was added for St. Lucia and a tropical storm warning for St. Maarten.

An 8 a.m. National Hurricane center discussion said the storm was expected to slow through Tuesday night.

SOURCE: Weather Underground

 

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5 a.m. UPDATE:

Hurricane Maria is expected to undergo “significant strengthening” in the next 48 hours and be a major storm by the time it reaches the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean on Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center said in its 5 a.m. update Monday.

The storm, declared a hurricane one week after Hurricane Irma swept through Florida, was 100 miles east of the island of Martinique and 130 miles east-southeast of Dominica with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph. It was moving west-northwest at 13 mph, but was expected to slow over the next day or two.

Read The Post’s complete coverage of Hurricane Irma

The storm remains about 2,000 miles from Florida’s east coast, and the forecast does not discuss landfall with the United States. The eastern end of Cuba and the Bahamas could feel tropical-storm force winds as early as Thursday and Friday if Maria stays on its present path, forecasters said.

A five-day forecast cone provided with the 5 a.m. update suggests the storm will turn north east of the Bahamas between Thursday and Saturday.

SOURCE: Weather Underground

As of 5 a.m. Monday, hurricane warnings were in effect for Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat and Martinique, forecasters said. Tropical-storm warnings were in place for Antigua, Barbuda, Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Lucia. Puerto Rico was under a hurricane watch, along with both the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. Many sustained significant damage during Irma.

Hurricane-force winds extended 15 miles from Maria’s center, and tropical-storm force winds 105 miles, the 5 a.m. update said.

Storm surge of 5 to 7 inches was possible in the Leeward Islands, along with 6 to 12 inches of rainfall.

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UPDATE: Maria increasing strength, aiming for Caribbean

11 p.m. update: Sustained gusts have increased to 85 mph and continues moving west-northwest at 13 mph. Maria is expected to become a category 4 hurricane in 48 hours.

Additional Hurricane and Tropical storm Warnings may be issued for portion of the Leeward and Virgin Islands on Monday, and Hurricane Watches will likely be issued for Puerto Rico and the nearby islands Monday morning.

A dangerous storm surge accompanied by large and destructive waves will raise water levels by as much as 5 to 7 feet above normal tide levels when the center of Maria moves across the Leeward Islands.

Maria is expected to produce total rain accumulations of 6 to 12 inches with isolated maximum amounts of 20 inches across the central and southern Leeward Islands, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands through Wednesday night.Maria 11 pm

8 p.m. update: Hurricane Maria is now packing 80-mph winds as it moves west-northwest at 15 mph toward the Lesser Antilles. It’s about 125 miles east-northeast of Barbados, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

France has issued a hurricane warning for Martinique. Previous warnings remain in Guadeloupe; Dominica; and St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat. There are also hurricane watches, plus tropical storm warnings and watches, for other islands including St. Lucia, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, St. Maarten, and Barbados.

Additional tropical storm or hurricane watches and warnings will likely be issued tonight or on Monday.

Maria Is expected to gain power and could be near major hurricane strength while crossing through the Leeward Islands late Monday on a path aiming toward Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

It could make a direct hit on Puerto Rico, which was spared the full brunt of Irma, though power was knocked out to much of the island.

MORE: Strengthening Hurricane Maria a threat to Irma-hit Caribbean

Meanwhile, long-lived Hurricane Jose was moving northward off the U.S. Atlantic Seaboard, kicking up dangerous surf and rip currents. It wasn’t expected to make landfall but tropical storm watches were posted for all of the coast from Delaware to Massachusetts’ Cape Cod.

At 8 p.m., Jose was centered about 315 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and was moving north at 9 mph. It had maximum sustained winds of 90 mph.

Tropical Storm Lee has weakened into a depression far out in the Atlantic, no threat to land.

PREVIOUS REPORT:

Tropical Storm Maria is now a hurricane with sustained winds of 75 mph

Maria is moving toward the west-northwest near 15 mph On the forecast track, the center of Maria will move across the Leeward Islands Monday night and then over the extreme northeastern Caribbean Sea on Tuesday.

Additional strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours, and Maria could be near major hurricane intensity when it moves across the Leeward Islands Monday night.

Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 15 miles from the center, and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 105 miles.

 

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11 a.m.: Tropical Storm Maria grows wider as Jose strengthens

11 a.m. update: National Hurricane Center forecasters are reporting that Tropical Storm Maria grew wider as it is moving across the Atlantic.

Its tropical storm force winds extended out up to 70 miles wide from 60 miles wide reported for the 8 a.m. forecast. It is still heading west-northwest at about 15 miles per hour and is expected to cross over the Leeward Islands by tonight.

Maximum sustained winds are near 65 mph with higher
gusts. Maria is expected to become a hurricane later today.

By mid-week, Maria could affect the British and U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico as a dangerous major hurricane, and hurricane watches could be issued for these islands as early as
tonight.

Several computer models have it veering north and avoiding Florida.

https://www.wunderground.com

Meanwhile, Hurricane Jose’s maximum sustained winds have increased to 90 miles per hour as it slowly moves toward the northeast U.S. coast.

Forecasters expect it to remain a hurricane through Tuesday. It’s expected to produce dangerous surf and rip currents along the coast.

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8 a.m.: Tropical Storm Maria expected to become hurricane today

As Tropical Storm Maria moves west-northwest toward the Leeward Islands, it is expected to strengthen throughout the day.

By the end of Monday, it should become a hurricane.

For the 8 a.m. advisory from The National Hurricane Center, Maria’s maximum sustained winds were near 65 miles per hour with higher gusts.

It is moving about 15 mph. On the forecast track, the center of Maria
will be near the Leeward Islands Monday night.

Tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 60 miles
from its center.

Read The Post’s complete coverage of Hurricane Irma

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5 a.m. UPDATE: Tropical Storm Maria has Caribbean islands on watch

Tropical Storm Maria continued on its path toward the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean Sea early Sunday, with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph, the National Hurricane Center said in its 5 a.m. update.

The storm, still about 2,000 miles from the United States, was 460 miles east-southeast of the Lesser Antilles and was moving west-northwest at about 15 mph. It is due to be near the Leeward Islands, which stretch from the U.S. Virgin Islands to Dominica, by late Monday, and its wind speed could make it a hurricane at that time, forecasters said.

Read The Post’s complete coverage of Hurricane Irma

Hurricane watches are in effect in Antigua, Barbados, Barbuda, St. Kitts, Nevis. Montserrat, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Saba, St. Eustastius, St. Maarten and Anguilla. Tropical storm watches are in effect for St. Lucia, Martinique, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

No watches or warnings were in effect for Tropical Storm Lee, which is east of Maria in the Atlantic. It is moving west toward the open ocean and is expected to weaken to a tropical depression by Tuesday, the hurricane center said.

Python hunt licenses prove extremely popular

The help wanted sign went up less than two weeks ago: “Python hunters needed for minimum wage pay and bonus potential.”

And Florida responded.

Video: Post reporter watches python battle an alligator in now viral video

The South Florida Water Management District’s new python hunting pilot program received 1,000 applications before having to cut it off last week.

The initial program has space for just 25 hunters.

“The 50 chosen have been notified as well as the remaining applicants,” said district spokesman Randy Smith. “Ultimately 25 of the 50 will be selected for the project.”


In an effort to reduce the population of invasive Burmese pythons in the Everglades, the South Florida Water Management District announced an experimental program March 9 that offers $8.10 an hour, plus incentives starting at $50 for a 4-foot-long snake and $25 for each additional foot above that.

A snake found guarding a nest with eggs is worth an additional $100.


Burmese pythons are at the top of the food chain in the Everglades and researchers fear they are spreading. In September, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced python hatchlings were found in Key Largo, while a 10-foot python was found on a levee at the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Palm Beach County.

Watch: Python attacks alligator in epic struggle

“This is a two-month pilot program, so we don’t anticipate eradication, but we want to tap into resources not previously used,” said Rory Feeney, the water management district’s bureau chief for land resources. “We want to see how successful an incentivized program is.”

The python hunt begins April 1. Each participant can be accompanied by up to three volunteers.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has sponsored a similar program called the Python Challenge, but that was a contest with winners taking home prizes up to $5,000 depending on the number of pythons killed and length.

Last year, more than 1,000 people from 29 states registered for the challenge, which netted 106 snakes, including one that was 15-feet-long.

But estimates of how many pythons are in the Everglades are in the tens of thousands and the damage they are doing to native species is alarming. In December, researchers found that a 15-foot female python had eaten three white-tailed deer in the 90 days before capture.

A Palm Beach Post video of a python attacking an alligator in Big Cypress National Preserve in December drew international attention to the issue and was watched by the water management governing board at a meeting this month.

“Anyone who has seen the now famous python vs. alligator video can attest that the fight for survival of the Everglades is real,” said South Florida Water Management District Governing Board chairman Dan O’Keefe at the meeting. “Floridians should have no sympathies for this notorious strangler, and this latest initiative should pave the way for further exotic elimination efforts.”

The district has set aside $175,000 for the program. A participant can earn the $8.10 per hour for up to eight hours per day. Total compensation cannot exceed $6,000.