Sunday, September 17, 2017

Hurricane Maria (2017)

Storm Active: September 16-30

Maria formed from a tropical wave that first left Africa around September 10 or 11. At first, conditions did not support development of the broad system, but they steadily improved over the next several days. On September 15, the disturbance appeared much more organized on satellite imagery, and some rotation became evident. By the morning of the 16th, only a well-defined center of circulation separated it from tropical cyclone status. It cleared this hurdle during the afternoon, becoming Tropical Depression Fifteen. From this point, its maximum winds increased almost immediately, and the depression was upgraded to Tropical Storm Maria shortly thereafter.

The tropical storm was already quite large, though gaps remained in the satellite presentation of the cyclone in between rain bands. Despite this, the inner core strengthened fairly swiftly, and Maria became a strong tropical storm by the morning of September 17. That afternoon, a large burst of convective activity ignited near the center of circulation, overcoming the dry slot that had been hampering intensification. Soon, Maria had a well-formed eyewall and was upgraded to a hurricane. The outer bands were starting to affect the Lesser Antilles and the system continued west-northwestward toward the islands. September 18 saw incredibly rapid strengthening of Maria. In the morning, it strengthened into a major hurricane, and while an eye was apparent on radar, it had not yet cleared out on satellite imagery. The clearing came that afternoon; a very small "pinhole" eye developed, indicating a small core but extremely intense winds. Its intensity shot up through category 4, and Maria achieved category 5 intensity with 160 mph winds and a pressure of 924 mb during that evening. The eye then made landfall small island of Dominica in the Lesser Antilles.

Though small, the island was mountainous, and briefly disrupted Maria's core, bringing the intensity down slightly to category 4. However, as moved west-northwest into the Caribbean, its central pressure began to drop again, and the hurricane regained category 5 status early in the morning of September 19. Remarkably, the cyclone was not done intensifying: it became more symmetric on satellite imagery that day, and thunderstorm activity around the centered grew even further. That evening, Maria reached a peak intensity of 175 mph winds and a central pressure of 908 mb, one of the top ten lowest pressures ever recorded in an Atlantic hurricane at the time, even though its maximum winds were slightly weaker than those of Hurricane Irma a few weeks earlier.

By this time, the center was approaching Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. As is typical with powerful hurricanes, a secondary eyewall then formed and the inner one weakened somewhat, causing a decrease in maximum winds. When Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico early on September 20, it was a high-end category 4 hurricane with maximum winds of 155 mph, but the area of maximum winds had expanded in the wake of the eyewall replacement. Regardless, it was the strongest cyclone to make landfall in Puerto Rico since 1928. The hurricane brought extremely strong winds and damaging flooding rains to the island, causing several rivers to exceed their previous record stages. Nevertheless, land interaction took a significant toll on Maria and it quickly weakened over the next several hours. After traversing much of Puerto Rico from east-southeast to west-northwest, the center emerged over water early in the afternoon. The system had dropped to high-end category 2 strength, but reorganization began as it moved further northwest. A ragged eye developed by the evening and the circulation recovered some overnight, bringing Maria back up to major hurricane strength early on September 21. The southern portion of the circulation brought widespread tropical storm conditions and occasional hurricane conditions to the Dominican Republic that day.

The cyclone then veered northwest, moving away from Hispaniola. Some modest strengthening ensued, though the eye of the hurricane was quite unstable and actually clouded over that night. Wind shear out of the southwest was disrupting the system. Early on September 22, the center passed just east of the Turks and Caicos islands. Following the weakness in the ridge to its north left by Jose before it, Maria moved north-northwest that day. No significant changes in strength occurred through September 23, although the pressure and winds fluctuated. In fact, the central pressure decreased, but the maximum winds found in the eyewall were not as strong as before. As a result, Maria was downgraded to a category 2 on September 24. Later that day, Maria's structure took a more significant hit as the center moved over the cold wake left by Jose and the northwestern eyewall collapsed. As a result, the hurricane weakened to a category 1 overnight as it continued slowly northward. The center was nearly exposed late on the 25th, but the storm maintained minimal hurricane strength.

Maria finally weakened to a tropical storm on September 26, as the outer edge of its tropical storm wind field brushed the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Since almost all thunderstorm activity was displaced to the north and east of the center, there were few land impacts. Winds actually increased for a brief period on September 27, and the storm regained hurricane strength. This was short-lived though; it was a tropical storm again the next morning. After moving north at a crawl for several days, Maria finally began to turn eastward and accelerate as a cold front approached the U.S. east coast. The next day, the heading shifted back east-northeast. Shear also increased significantly as the circulation encountered colder waters, beginning extratropical transition. On September 30, Maria became post-tropical.

The above image shows Maria as a category 5 hurricane in the Caribbean sea.

Hurricane Maria brought devastating damage to Dominica, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and other parts of the Lesser Antilles.

1 comment:

George Desmond said...

Global Warming . It's high time humans rose up and began to do the right thing before it gets worse