Maria became the thirteenth named storm of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season after it developed in the eastern Atlantic on September 8. The storm is currently located approximately 940 miles (1,510 kilometers) east-southeast of the Leeward Islands, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC). The storm currently packs sustained winds of around 50 mph (85 kmph), equivalent to a tropical storm. Maria is traveling in a westerly direction and this general motion is expected to continue today before taking a turn to the west-northwest tomorrow. On this forecast track, Maria is expected to approach the Leeward Islands tomorrow. The NHC said tropical storm force winds extend 115 miles (185 kilometers) from the center of the storm.
A tropical storm watch has been issued for the Leeward Island of Antigua, Barbuda, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis. The NHC also advised residents in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico to monitor the storm’s progress. The NHC added that tropical storm conditions are possible in the watch area tomorrow and Saturday. Forecasters expect Maria to take a turn towards the west-northwest over the next 24 hours. This path will see the storm continue to move across the Atlantic and approach the Leeward Islands tomorrow as a tropical storm. The extended forecast has Maria just east of the Bahamas on September 13.
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The official NHC prediction has Maria maintaining its tropical storm status over the 5 day forecast range as the storm passes through an environment with wind shear. The storm poses no immediate threat to land and it remains unclear at this stage whether it will impact the United States, Bermuda or the Caribbean. Some forecast models show Maria taking a similar track to Hurricane Katia and eventually curving away from the Caribbean and United States coastline. However, other models show Maria maintaining its northwesterly course into next week on a path that could affect the United States east coast. There is considerable uncertainty surrounding Maria’s project track and intensity at this time and forecasters say it is too early to determine whether the storm will threaten land.
Tropical Storm Nate is also active in the Atlantic after it developed on September 7 in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico. The NHC forecast has the storm remaining over the Bay of Campeche for the next five days. Nate is currently nearly stationary but is expected to slowly track in a northwesterly and westerly direction towards the Mexican coast over the next few days. Tropical storm warnings have therefore been issued for Mexico from Chilitepec to Celestun. There is again considerable uncertainty associated with Nat’s forecast track, with several models predicting the storm will move towards the Mexican coast and others predicting the system will move into the northern Gulf of Mexico. The NHC forecast has Nate remaining a tropical storm over the next couple of days before intensifying into a category 1 hurricane.
Hurricane Katia, meanwhile, is currently moving in a northerly direction on a track that is expected to steer well clear of the United States east coast and Bermuda. Katia has been downgraded to a category 1 hurricane, but a tropical storm warning has been issued in Bermuda due to the storm’s large windfield. Although large swells generated by Katia will continue to affect Bermuda, the United States east coast and east facing beaches in the Bahamas today, these are expected to diminish as the storm takes a turn to the north-northeast and moves across the North Atlantic.
Sources: National Hurricane Center, WSI, Associated Press, Reuters News, Agence France Presse
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