Typhoon Maria Rapidly Intensifies Into Equivalent of Major Hurricane

Typhoon Maria rapidly intensified Thursday into the equivalent of a major hurricane as it moved west of the Mariana Islands.  At 5:00 p.m. EDT on Thursday the center of Typhoon Maria was located at latitude 15.7°N and longitude 142.1°E which put it about 210 miles (340 km) northwest of Guam.  Maria was moving toward the northwest at 10 m.p.h. (16 km/h).  The maximum sustained wind speed was 125 m.p.h. (205 km/h) and there were wind gusts to 155 m.p.h. (250 km/h).  The minimum surface pressure was 950 mb.

After striking Guam as a tropical storm on Wednesday Maria rapidly intensified into a strong typhoon on Thursday.  A circular eye was evident on satellite imagery.  The eye was surrounded by a ring of strong thunderstorms.  Several bands of showers and thunderstorms were revolving around the core of the circulation.  Storm in the core were generating strong upper level divergence which was pumping mass away from the typhoon in all directions.  Winds to typhoon force extended out about 35 miles (55 km) from the center of circulation.  Winds to tropical storm force extended out about 155 miles (250 km) from the center.

The Hurricane Intensity Index (HII) for Typhoon Maria was 23.6.  The Hurricane Size Index (HSI) was 14.1 and the Hurricane Wind Intensity Size Index (HWISI) was 37.7.

Typhoon Maria will continue to move through an environment favorable for intensification for another day or two.  Maria will move over water where the Sea Surface Temperature is near 30°C.  It will move through a region of weaker winds between an upper level low to the west and an upper level low to the east.  There will be little vertical wind shear.  Typhoon Maria is likely to intensify more on Friday and it could become the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Scale.  An eyewall replacement cycle could occur if one of the rainbands wraps around existing eye and eyewall.  If an eyewall replacement cycle starts, it will cause Typhoon Maria to weaken at least temporarily.

Typhoon Maria was moving south of a subtropical ridge over the Western North Pacific Ocean.  The ridge was steering Maria toward the northwest.  A general motion toward the northwest is expected to continue for another day or two.  The ridge is forecast to strengthen after that time and it will steer Typhoon Maria more toward the west-northwest.  On its anticipated track Maria will pass south of Iwo To.  Typhoon Maria could approach Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands in four or five days.