Tropical Storm Maria is currently located approximately 435 miles (705 kilometers) east-southeast of the Leeward Islands, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC). The storm has weakened slightly over the last 24 hours and currently packs sustained winds of around 40 mph (65 kmph), equivalent to a tropical storm. Maria is moving towards the west-northwest and this general motion is expected to continue during the next 24 to 36 hours. On this forecast track, Maria is expected to reach the Leeward Islands tomorrow morning and be near the Virgin Islands tomorrow night. The NHC said tropical storm force winds extend 175 miles (280 kilometers) from the center of the storm.
A tropical storm warning has now been issued for Antigua, Anguilla, Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, Montserrat and St. Kitts and Nevis. A tropical storm warning is also in effect fro Dominica, St. Barthelemy, St. Marteen and Martinique and Puerto Rico. Forecasters expect Maria to maintain its west-northwest course over the next 24 to 36 hours. This path will see the storm continue to move across the Atlantic and reach the Leeward Islands and the Virgin Islands tomorrow as a tropical storm. The NHC added that tropical storm conditions are expected to reach the Lesser Antilles later today, with up to 8 inches (200 millimeters) rainfall forecast. The extended forecast has Maria just northeast of the Bahamas on September 14 as a category 1 hurricane.
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The official NHC prediction has Maria maintaining its tropical storm status over the weekend as the storm passes through an environment with wind shear. However, the storm is expected intensify into a category 1 hurricane on September 13 as wind shear reduces. There is some uncertainty surrounding Maria’s projected track at this time and forecasters say it is too early to determine whether the storm will threaten the United States. Several forecast models show Maria taking a similar track to Hurricane Katia and eventually curving away from the U.S. coastline while other models show Maria maintaining its northwesterly course into next week on a path that could affect the United States east coast.
Elsewhere, Tropical Storm Nate has strengthened slightly over the last 24 hours (sustained winds are currently 65 mph) as it meanders in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico. The NHC forecast has the storm remaining near 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. The NHC expects Nate to intensify into the third hurricane of the 2011 season later today or tomorrow. Tropical storm warnings have been issued parts of Mexico from Chilitepec to Celestun. Model guidance indicates an increasing likelihood of Nate making landfall along the Mexican coast (only one model now has the storm moving into the northern Gulf of Mexico). The official NHC forecast has Nate making landfall between the towns of Veracruz and Tampico in Mexico on September 11 or 12 as a category 2 hurricane. A full CAT-i report on Tropical Storm Nate will be issued later today.
Hurricane Katia, meanwhile, is currently moving in a northeasterly direction in the open Atlantic. Katia passed between the United States east coast and Bermuda yesterday, generating large swells but causing no significant damage. The NHC expects the system to track across the North Atlantic for the next few days and possibly bring strong winds and heavy rain to northern regions of the United Kingdom early next week.
Sources: National Hurricane Center, WSI, Associated Press, Reuters News, Agence France Presse
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