Damage on the British Virgin Islands after Hurricane Irma. Photo: AP
Hurricane Irma barreled through the Caribbean earlier this month, killing at least 38 people in the region and destroying thousands of buildings. Unfortunately, 2017's relentless hurricane season is not letting up, and it looks as though Tropical Storm Maria is likely to become a hurricane before it hits the already-ravaged area this week.
After forming on Saturday in the western Atlantic, Maria is expected to build to a hurricane by Monday and a major hurricane by Wednesday, per CNN. It is currently 740km southeast of the Lesser Antilles.
"Maria is expected to strengthen and affect portions of the Leeward Islands as a hurricane early this week, bringing dangerous wind, storm surge and rainfall hazards," the National Hurricane Center's Atlantic Operations department wrote in a release. "Hurricane and tropical storm warnings have been issued for portions of the Leeward Islands, and these warnings will likely be extended northward and westward later today and tonight."
— NHC Atlantic Ops (@NHC_Atlantic) September 17, 2017
"Maria could also affect the British and US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico by mid week as a dangerous major hurricane, and hurricane waters could be issued for these islands as early tonight," the NHC continued. The Virgin Islands were ravaged by Irma; after the storm passed, eerie satellite photos showed the islands almost entirely stripped of greenery.
In a separate advisory, the NHC wrote "Maximum sustained winds are near 65 mph (100 km/h) with higher gusts. Strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours, and Maria is expected to become a hurricane later today or tonight ... Tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 70 miles (110 km) from the center."
The NHC's projection of Maria's probable path currently looks much like Irma, although the storm could still veer away.
Image: National Hurricane Center
Hopefully, the Caribbean will avoid a repeat of one of the worst storms in recent memory.
Scientists predict that human-induced global climate change will make extreme weather events like hurricanes both more severe and more common. Warmer ocean temperatures help fuel storm systems, while the estimated 3.4 inches (86 millimetres) of sea level rise since 1993 are already resulting in higher and thus more devastating storm surges which are capable of wiping out coastal structures and flooding entire neighbourhoods.