Maria Becomes a Hurricane, Jose Prompts Watches for Northeast U.S.

A reconnaissance plane found that Tropical Storm Maria had intensified into a hurricane as it moved toward the Leeward Islands on Sunday afternoon.  At the same time Hurricane Jose moved farther north and Tropical Storm Watches were issued for the coast of the northeastern U.S.  At 5:00 p.m. EDT on Sunday the center of Hurricane Maria was located at latitude 13.8°N and longitude 57.5°W which put it about 275 miles (445 km) east-southeast of Dominica.  Maria was moving toward the west-northwest at 15 m.p.h. (24 km/h).  The maximum sustained wind speed was 75 m.p.h. (120 km/h) and there were wind gusts to 90 m.p.h. (150 km/h).  The minimum surface pressure was 982 mb.

Hurricane Warnings were in effect for Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat.  Hurricane Watches were in effect for the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Islands, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Maarten, St. Martin, St. Barthelemy, and Anguilla.  Tropical Storm Warnings were in effect for Martinique, St. Lucia, Antigua, Barbuda, Saba, and St. Eustatius.  Tropical Storm Watches were in effect for Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

A reconnaissance plane found sustained winds to hurricane force when it investigated Hurricane Maria on Sunday afternoon.  The plane reported a circular eye with a diameter of 32 miles (52 km) at the center of circulation.  The eye was surrounded by an almost complete ring of thunderstorms.  The ring was broken south of the center.  The strongest winds wind occurring in that ring of thunderstorms.  Additional bands of showers and thunderstorms were developing in the eastern half of the circulation.  There were fewer showers and thunderstorms in the western half of Maria.  Hurricane Maria was generating upper level divergence which was pumping away mass and allowing the surface pressure to decrease.

Hurricane Maria will move through an environment that will be favorable for intensification.  Maria will move over water where the Sea Surface Temperature is near 29°C.  An upper level low over Caribbean Sea is causing southern winds which are blowing near the eastern side of Hurricane Maria.  Those winds do not appear to be causing significant vertical wind shear.  Hurricane Maria is likely to continue to intensify as it moves toward the Leeward Islands.  Maria could intensify rapidly once a fully closed eye develops.

Hurricane Maria is being steered toward the west-northwest by the subtropical high pressure system over the Atlantic Ocean and that general motion is expected to continue for several more days.  On its anticipated track Hurricane Maria could reach the Leeward Islands by later on Monday.  Maria could be near Puerto Rico by Wednesday.  Hurricane Maria will affect some of the same islands damaged by Hurricane Irma a few days ago.  Strong winds and heavy rain will significantly impact recovery efforts in those areas.

A reconnaissance plane also found that Hurricane Jose was stronger on Sunday afternoon.  At 5:00 p.m. EDT on Sunday the center of Hurricane Jose was located at latitude 31.5°N and longitude 71.8°W which put it about 335 miles (535 km) southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.  Jose was moving toward the north at 9 m.p.h. (15 km/h).  The maximum sustained wind speed was 90 m.p.h. (150 km/h) and there were wind gusts to 105 m.p.h. (170 km/h).  The minimum surface pressure was 967 mb.

Tropical Storm Watches have been issued for the portions of the coast from Fenwick Island, Delaware to Sandy Hook, New Jersey and from East Rockaway Inlet, New York to Plymouth, Massachusetts including Long Island Sound, Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

Hurricane Jose strengthened on Sunday as it moved over water where the Sea Surface Temperature was near 29°C.  An eye appeared at times on visible satellite imagery.  The circulation of Hurricane Jose increased in size which often happens when hurricanes move north out of the tropics.  Winds to hurricane force extended out about 60 miles (95 km) from the center of circulation.  Winds to tropical storm force extended out about 290 miles (470 km) from the center.

Hurricane Jose will move through an environment which will be marginal for further intensification.  Jose will move over water which is warm enough to support intensification.  However, an upper level trough over the eastern U.S. is producing southerly winds which are blowing toward the top of the circulation.  Those winds are producing strong vertical wind shear and they could weaken Jose during the next several days.  Jose will be moving over warm water until it gets north of the Gulf Stream.  If the upper level winds slow, then Jose could get stronger.

Hurricane Jose is being steered northward by the subtropical high over the Atlantic Ocean and the trough over the eastern U.S.  On its anticipated track the center of Jose is forecast to move toward the northeastern U.S. and turn toward the east before it reaches the coast.  If Jose follows the forecast track, then the core of the hurricane would remain offshore.  However, the circulation of Jose is large enough that even if the center stays offshore, there could still be tropical storm force winds along the coast.