MARIA BECOMES A POTENTIALLY CATASTROPHIC CATEGORY 5 HURRICANE…THE EYE AND THE INTENSE INNER CORE IS NEARING DOMINICA

Hurricane Maria is centered as of 8 p.m. AST about 15 miles (25 km) east-southeast of Dominica and about 40 miles (70 km) north of Martinique. Maria is moving toward the west-northwest near 9 mph (15 km/h), and this general motion is expected to continue through Wednesday. On the forecast track, the core of Maria will move near Dominica and the adjacent Leeward Islands during the next few hours, over the extreme northeastern Caribbean Sea the remainder of tonight and Tuesday, and approach Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands Tuesday night and Wednesday.

Maximum sustained winds are near 160 mph (260 km/h) with higher gusts -a category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Some additional strengthening is possible tonight, but some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or two. Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 25 miles (35 km) from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 125 miles (205 km). The estimated minimum central pressure based on Air Force Hurricane Hunter data is 925 mb (27.32 inches).

A Hurricane Warning is in effect for Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat, U.S. Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Culebra, and Vieques. Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion. Hurricane conditions should be spreading across Dominica, Guadeloupe, and Martinique during the next few hours, with tropical storm conditions already occurring over portions of the Leeward Islands. Hurricane conditions should spread through the remainder of the hurricane warning area tonight through Wednesday. Interests elsewhere in Hispaniola should monitor the progress of this system. Additional watches and warnings may be required later tonight or on Tuesday.