Earlier this month, the Caribbean suffered through one of the worst-ever hurricanes on record, as Hurricane Irma made its way towards the Florida coast. The U.S. Virgin Islands and Barbuda, in particular, were slammed by the massive storm and dealt an absolutely devastating amount of damage. Now, another major storm is moving through the same area, and this time it might collide with yet another major U.S. territory ― so, you may be wondering, will Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico?
To be clear, Puerto Rico largely escaped Irma unharmed, though the storm passed harrowingly close to the island. According to NBC News, Irma missed Puerto Rico by just 50 miles or so, although ensuing wave damage did reportedly knock out electricity to about a million people.
But recent forecasts suggest the island might not be so lucky this time around. According to the latest projection from the National Hurricane Center, Maria is expected to move directly through Puerto Rico, arriving at about 8 a.m. local time on Wednesday morning ― less than 48 hours from now, in other words. Meteorological organizations and agencies that track hurricanes typically forecast out five days into the future, and making predictions past that can be an unreliable and cautionary business. But with Maria predicted to hit Puerto Rico in less than two days, the urgency is considerably higher.
It's been an aggressive and damaging hurricane season in 2017, with one major storm after another brewing in the Atlantic and slicing eastwards. Hurricane Harvey was the first such example, and it moved into the Gulf of Mexico before slamming into the upper and middle Texas coast. Ultimately, Harvey hit the greater Houston area with record-breaking levels of rainfall, causing epic floods that left dozens dead and running up a price tag in the tens of billions.
Hurricane Irma similarly caused extensive property damage throughout the state of Florida and beyond, also killing dozens and racking up billions of dollars worth of damage. In simple terms, both of the hurricanes that have made landfall in the continental U.S. this year have been dire in the extreme.
Now, Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory that's home to more than 3 million U.S. citizens, finds itself in the crosshairs of a major storm. To be clear, it's still possible that Maria could turn away or change direction at some point over the next couple of days, sparing the island from another damaging hurricane. But the time for that to happen is rapidly running out, and so if you're in Puerto Rico or have family and loved ones there, it's a good time to start making plans for preparedness and safety.
The National Hurricane Center has officially declared that a hurricane watch is in effect in Puerto Rico. Maria is currently listed as a Category 3 hurricane, meaning it possesses wind speeds between 111 and 129 miles per hour. It's expected that Maria could strengthen to Category 4 by the time it reaches Puerto Rico, meaning its wind speeds would be between 130 miles per hour and 156 miles per hour.
A Category 5 hurricane boasts wind speeds in excess of 156 miles per hour, and that's as high as the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale goes ― there is no Category 6, in other words.
In short, while there's still the potential for something to change between now and Wednesday morning, the state of affairs does not look good for residents of Puerto Rico. As of this writing ― although again, things could change ― Maria is not projected to reach the eastern coast of the U.S.