Tropical Storm Maria forms even as Tampa Bay craves normal life.
The tropical storm will likely hit damaged islands, but U.S. impact is unclear.
Tropical Storm Maria formed Saturday afternoon in the Atlantic, threatening to pound islands already hit hard by Irma with another hurricane early this week.
Potential impacts on Florida, still reeling from Hurricane Irma, are uncertain. Maria, which is expected to become a hurricane, joined Hurricane Jose and Tropical Storm Lee in a busy and destructive tropical season.
The National Hurricane Center forecasters said Maria will likely bring dangerous winds, more storm surge and heavy rain to parts of the Lesser Antilles. Saturday afternoon, hurricane watches were issued for Antigua, Barbuda, St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat. Tropical storm watches were issued earlier in the day for other islands in the chain.
By midweek, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico could again face fierce winds with Maria expected to become another major hurricane. Watches could be issued for the islands as early as today.
It is not yet clear what impact Florida and the United States might face from the storm. Model projections so far out can often be hundreds of miles off. But an early run of the European model, which reliably tracked Irma, takes the storm toward Florida. Others curve it away.
Dustin Norman, a National Weather Service meteorologist, cautioned against reading too much into the storm just yet.
“Currently, there is pretty good model consensus in it going into the Leeward Islands and, unfortunately, going into the same islands that were affected by Irma,” Norman said. “Beyond that point, it kind of becomes fuzzy.”
He noted that many of the models have Maria curving north and staying east of the Florida peninsula. The main areas of concern in the near future would be Puerto Rico and Hispaniola, potentially the southern Bahamas.
“We definitely don’t want people to start freaking out about Maria just yet. It is so far out,” Norman said, suggesting Tampa Bay area residents continue focusing on Irma cleanup.
Saturday evening, the storm was located about 620 miles east-southeast of the Lesser Antilles and moving west at a quick 20 mph. Sustained winds reached 50 mph.
The system became much better organized Saturday afternoon, forecasters said, as it moved over warm tropical waters and encountered light wind shear. Air around the storm is also very moist. Those conditions shouldn’t change in the coming days, they said, likely allowing Maria to continue to pick up steam.
The storm is now moving along the outside of a high pressure ridge. But that ridge is expected to weaken. That should slow the storm and cause it to head to the northwest.
In his blog Saturday, Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters said the storm could approach the United States by next week.
Masters said the storm’s path could be influenced by Hurricane Jose, currently hundreds of miles east of Florida and moving toward the coast of New England.
As for Jose, which once also appeared headed for Florida, Norman of the National Weather Service said not to worry.
“Jose is a non-issue for us, other than higher wave and rip current on the east coast,” he said. “Maria will be the one that will monitor closely.”
Tropical Storm Lee, meanwhile, remained even less of a threat, swirling far east in the Atlantic and moving westward at 10 mph with no increase in strength.