Hurricane Maria intensified into a risky Category 5 storm and pounded the small island of Dominica as it surged into the eastern Caribbean on Monday night, and forecasters warned it might become even stronger.
Maria is expected to move toward the Leeward Islands late today and tonight, over the northeastern Caribbean Sea Tuesday and Tuesday night, and approach Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands on Wednesday.
A hurricane watch is in effect for the US Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands, St. Maarten/St. Martin, St. Barthelemy and Anguilla - many of which were devastated when Irma blew through the Caribbean, killing 44 people.
While the intensity of the hurricane may fluctuate over the next day or two, Maria is expected to remain a category 4 or 5 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale, the Miami-based NHC said.
Hurricane Irma - a category 5 storm - is making its way through the path predicted in the past few days. After that, models are indicating that the high pressure system steering Maria will weaken and cause a turn to the north into the Atlantic before reaching the Bahamas or US mainland.
More than 1,700 residents of Barbuda were evacuated to neighbouring Antigua after Irma damaged almost every building there.
A US Air Force Reserve C-130 Hurricane Hunter took off from Curacao and is scheduled to arrive in Maria later on Monday, the hurricane center said. It's moving at about 9 miles per hour. Tropical Depression Lee is set to fizzle out during the day, while Tropical Storm Norma and Hurricane Otis are now occupying the eastern Pacific.
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The National Hurricane Centre says interests elsewhere in the Lesser Antilles and the British and U. S.Virgin Islands should monitor the progress of the system.
Forecasters warned that the islands could again be hit with heavy storm surge, from four to six feet deep.
As of 1200 GMT the storm was swirling about 85 miles (135 kilometres) east of Martinique, according to the NHC, on track to barrel across the eastern Caribbean late Monday and into the night. Ocean waters on its path are much warmer than normal, and atmospheric conditions are almost ideal for a storm to intensify.
The National Hurricane Center also produces other forecasts, including a "cone of uncertainty" chart showing where Hurricane Maria might travel over the next several days.
Further north, Hurricane Jose, a Category 1 storm, is expected to bring tropical storm-force winds of up to 50 miles per hour along the coasts of New Jersey and NY on Tuesday evening, the National Hurricane Center, reports.
On Monday morning, Hurricane Jose was about 270 miles east-southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and was moving north at 9 mph. Parts of the central and southern Leeward Islands could see as much as 51cm of rain, it said.
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