Maria’s maximum sustained winds intensified to 175 mph on Tuesday night as the “potentially catastrophic” Category 5 hurricane zeroed in on the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
It was too early to say whether Maria might steer toward the U.S. next week, including the Carolinas. Forecasters will have “better confidence” by Friday or Saturday whether it will or won’t reach us, meteorologist Scott Krentz of the National Weather Service in Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C., said late Monday.
Some models show the hurricane tracking northwest toward the Carolinas, Nick Petro of the National Weather Service in Raleigh told The (Raleigh) News & Observer. Other models show it heading west toward the Gulf of Mexico or even north of Bermuda, he said.
“There are too many possibilities right now,” Petro told The News & Observer when asked about an accurate prediction of how Maria could affect the U.S. mainland. But even if Maria stays hundreds of miles east of North Carolina, rip currents on the coast are guaranteed, he said.
How systems to our north affect Maria, including Hurricane Jose, make it all the more difficult to predict where Maria will end up, Krentz said.
Maria’s eye neared the U.S. Virgin Islands late Tuesday and was expected to move across Puerto Rico on Wednesday, according to the center.
The hurricane is predicted to then move just north of the eastern Dominican Republic on Wednesday night and Thursday, center forecasters said.
A hurricane watch is in effect for the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos, where Maria could bring hurricane conditions on Thursday.
Life-threatening flash floods and mudslides from heavy rainfall are expected across the Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.
By comparison, Hurricane Hugo’s maximum sustained winds reached 162 mph, Hurricane Katrina’s 174 mph and Hurricane Andrew’s 175 mph.