Hurricane Maria has quickly moved from a category 4 to a powerful and potentially catastrophic category 5 storm, according to the National Hurricane Center's 8:00 p.m. advisory, and was on path to directly impact Dominica Monday night.
Hurricane Maria was upgraded Monday evening to the top of the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale when its maximum sustained winds reached 160 miles per hour (215 km per hour), with higher gusts, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported.
It also forecast maximum potential rainfall of 20 inches (51 centimetres) in the Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands through Wednesday night - conditions that could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides. The level of cruise ports could be raised again depending on Hurricane Maria's track.
Gov. Kenneth Mapp says the eyewall of the storm is expected to pass 22 miles (35 kilometers) south of the island Tuesday night and early Wednesday.
The storm had already caused "significant damage to structures" in Dominica, according to ham radio reports. The island is home to about 55,000 year-round residents, roughly half of the entire territory's population.
The effects of climate change are glaring at us in the form of powerful storms and hurricanes which have unleashed in different parts of the world.
Maria doesn't have the historic size and strength of Irma, and its hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 25 miles - short of the 70 miles such winds extended from Irma's center.
While the territory will start feeling the effects of the storm from 2:00 p.m., outer band winds and rain will start before that time, the governor said. They've lost their homes, they're inundated with mosquitoes that follow the flooding and now they get this. It escaped the worst of Irma and has been an important hub for getting relief to islands more badly affected. "To see another one coming is just so discouraging", said Jones, who fled to Puerto Rico last week and then caught a flight to Atlanta, where she planned to remain until Maria passed. Impending calamity is expected to bring "dangerous wind, storm surge and rainfall hazards" when it makes its landfall.
Four hundred fifty shelters will be opened up starting Monday afternoon in Puerto Rico.
According to NHC, Maria is moving toward the west-northwest near 10 miles per hour, and this motion with some decrease in forward speed is expected through Tuesday night.