Category 5 Hurricane Maria Hits Dominica

September 19, 2017, 1:41 AM EDT

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Above:  GOES-16 visible image of Maria just before sunset, at 5:17 pm EDT Monday, September 18, 2017. Image credit: NOAA/RAMMB.

Category 5 Hurricane Maria made a direct hit on the small Lesser Antilles island of Dominica (population 72,000) near 9 pm EDT Monday, becoming Dominica’s first Category 5 landfall on record. At the time of landfall, an Air Force hurricane hunter aircraft measured surface winds of 160 mph and a central pressure of 924 mb. Maria likely did catastrophic damage to Dominica.

Heavy rain squalls and rising winds were being observed late Monday afternoon at Melville Hall Airport on Dominica, which measured sustained winds at 31 mph, gusting to 48 mph, at 6 pm EDT Monday. That station then went off-line, as did Canefield Airport, an hour later. A personal weather station on the northwest end of the island stopped transmitting as of 9:50 pm EDT Monday, after measuring a pressure of 986 mb. Satellite loops and radar out of Martinique and Barbados clearly show Maria’s small, 9-mile diameter eye, surrounded by a daunting array of spiral bands with heavy thunderstorms, Maria’s hurricane-force winds were confined to a relatively narrow 40-mile diameter region around the hurricane’s small eye, but the tropical storm-force wind area was 230 miles in diameter.

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Figure 1. Radar image of Hurricane Maria making landfall on the southeast coast of Dominica at 9 pm EDT September 18, 2017. Image credit: Meteo France.

Maria put on an incredible display of rapid intensification on Monday, going from a low-end Category 1 storm with 75 mph winds and a pressure of 982 mb at 0Z Monday, to a Category 5 storm with 160 mph winds and a 925 mb pressure 24 hours later. There have now been two Atlantic Category 5 storms in 2017: Maria and Irma. The Atlantic has had only five other years on record with multiple Cat 5s: Dean and Felix in 2007; Emily, Katrina, Rita and Wilma in 2005; Carla and Hattie in 1961; and two Cat 5s each in 1932 and 1933.

Dominica hurricane history

Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic on the island of Hispaniola) has received numerous strikes by tropical storms over the years, but only five direct hits from hurricanes since records began in 1851. This is, in part, because Dominica is a small island, but also because it is uncommon for water temperatures to be warm enough to the east of the island to allow intensification of westward-moving tropical storms into hurricanes before reaching Dominica.

The only major hurricane to hit Dominica was Category 4 Hurricane David of 1979. David killed 40 people and did $160 million in damage (2017 dollars). The most expensive storm to hit Dominica was Tropical Storm Erika of August 2015. Erika caused extensive flooding and landslides across the island, killing 30 and causing $500 million in damage (2017 dollars). This was a disastrous 90% of their yearly GDP. Erika’s name was retired from the list of Atlantic storms due to its impact on Dominica, making it one of only two Atlantic tropical storms, along with Tropical Storm Allison of 2001, to have their names retired.

Beside David, four other hurricanes have hit the island: Category 1 Marilyn of 1995, and Category 1 hurricanes in 1930, 1916, and 1915.

We’ll have a full update on Maria and Jose on Tuesday.

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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Dr. Jeff Masters

Dr. Jeff Masters co-founded Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. in air pollution meteorology at the University of Michigan. He worked for the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990 as a flight meteorologist.

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