Preparedness & Recovery

Tropical Storm Maria Expected to Strengthen into Hurricane; Lee Diminishes to Tropical Depression

The storm — which Combs said could grow to a Category 3 hurricane — is expected to be near Puerto Rico by Wednesday night.

by Michael Williams, Bianca Padró Ocasio and Ryan Gillespie, Orlando Sentinel / September 17, 2017
People stand near the shore before the arrival of Hurricane Irma, in luquillo, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017. Maria may be on Irma's heals. AP/Carlos Giusti

(TNS) - Tropical Storm Maria’s westward march across the Atlantic is continuing Sunday, with the storm expected to become a hurricane later in the day, the National Hurricane Center said Sunday.

The strong tropical storm has sustained winds of up to 65 mph and higher gusts.Tropical storm conditions extend out about 60 miles from the storm’s center, forecasters said.

As of 2 p.m., the storm was 405 miles east of the Leeward Islands, traveling at 15 mph. It is expected to strengthen as it makes its way west, forcing Caribbean islands to prepare for Maria’s arrival even as they recover from the destruction Hurricane Irma left behind a week ago.

Forecaster Jerry Combs of the National Weather Service in Melbourne says it is way too early to predict what kind of impact — if any — the storm will have Florida, but it seems to be following a similar track to last week’s monster hurricane.

The storm — which Combs said could grow to a Category 3 hurricane — is expected to be near Puerto Rico by Wednesday night.

Rosalina Vázquez, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in San Juan, said the eye of the storm is expected to travel right over or north of the island.

Vázquez said forecasters measured wind gusts of up to 114 mph in the small island of Culebra during Hurricane Irma, which didn’t directly hit Puerto Rico.

Forecasters say Tropical Storm Maria is in an environment that is conducive to strengthening over the next couple of days. Multiple islands are under a hurricane watch, including St. Maarten, Antigua, Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis.

Tropical Depression Lee diminished from a Tropical Storm Sunday, the National Hurricane Center said.

It remains in the Atlantic, 875 miles west of the Cabo Verde Islands moving at 8 mph, forecasters said, with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph.

miwilliams@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5022.

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