Hurricane Maria reaches Cat 5 175mph winds as it batters Caribbean

by Artemis on September 19, 2017

Hurricane Maria has intensified into the second devastating storm to pass through the Caribbean in less than a fortnight, as the hurricane reached 160 mph sustained winds before making striking Dominica. Hurricane Maria’s winds had intensified to Cat 5 at 175 mph, now down to 155 mph again, but it could maintain this strength as it heads for Puerto Rico.

Hurricane Maria is now tracking across the Virgin Islands, towards Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and beyond the Turks & Caicos islands, which are all in the storms track. The intense hurricane raises the prospects of further insurance and reinsurance market losses this hurricane season.

Currently packing 155 mph sustained winds and higher gusts at 09:00 PM UTC on September 20th, along with a minimum central pressure of 917mb, weather models forecast that hurricane Maria will maintain major hurricane status as a category 4 or 5 storm, a terrible prospect for the already hurricane ravaged islands that fall within the forecast cone.

Hurricane Maria forecast path and track

Hurricane Maria forecast path and track

The United States is not currently in hurricane Maria’s forecast path, but the insurance and reinsurance industry has already felt some effect from the threat, as share prices of Florida and east coast exposed insurers and catastrophe exposed reinsurers dropped a little yesterday.

Hurricane Maria does pose a threat to the U.S., but there is considerable uncertainty in the eventual path and forecast models are erring towards a curve north into the Atlantic. However it is worth keeping an eye on Maria as it passes the Caribbean, with the current track similar to hurricane Irma.

At the moment the forecast models suggest Maria will track north of the Bahamas and curve into the Atlantic, keeping Florida safe. However some model runs still show a U.S. eastern seaboard landfall, somewhere further north.

Hurricane Marina GFS forecast models

Hurricane Marina GFS forecast models

Hurricane Maria will likely maintain major hurricane intensity as it crosses Puerto Rico, forecasters believe. The forecast track takes Maria directly over the U.S. island, which if intensity forecasts prove correct could result in considerable insurance losses, with a chance of impact for reinsurance capital as insurers tend to leverage more risk transfer in the Caribbean region.

Dominica has already had a direct hit and early reports from the island suggest a significant level of damage. Dominica is a member of the CCRIF SPC, so given the wind speeds it has experienced we expect it will be the next payout from the parametric insurance facility, raising the prospects that the CCRIF will call on reinsurance support this year.

Hurricane-force winds now extend outward up to 60 miles from the center of hurricane Maria and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 150 miles.

Hurricane Maria wind intensity forecast

Hurricane Maria wind intensity forecast

Whether hurricane Maria will track towards the United States remains a little uncertain at this time, but the majority of forecast model runs do show the storm taking a curve away from Florida at least. Consensus in the forecast models seems to be increasing, with more of the runs taking hurricane Maria away from the U.S. and tracking north.

The Bahamas could get hit by Maria though, it is set to come perilously close and there are also certain model runs that show hurricane Maria heading for a landfall on the U.S. eastern seaboard.

So insurance and reinsurance interests, as well as catastrophe bonds and the insurance-linked securities market, are not out of the woods yet and need to watch closely as hurricane Maria passes the Caribbean. Any deviation south or west could take hurricane Maria closer to Florida and the U.S. eastern coastline.

There will be additional insured losses from hurricane Maria’s impacts to the islands in its path, with Dominica, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico all likely taking direct hits. Maria’s wind speeds could devastate any island in its path and the threat to life is severe. That could bring more reinsurance capital into play, as support for insurers impacted is required.

The NHC warns of storm surge of 7 to 11 foot for the Caribbean islands closest to Maria’s path, as well as rainfall that could total as much as 20 inches, with 10 to 15 inches more widely experienced across the Leeward islands.

While hurricane Maria is now termed “extremely dangerous” by the NHC, hurricane Jose continues to track northwards off the U.S. east coast and whether this storm shifts west or not there could be some impacts to the coast from high seas and large waves. There is also some model uncertainty in Jose’s future path, with the forecast suggesting a curve out to sea and then potentially a track back towards the U.S. as a tropical or extra-tropical storm. Dissipation is also possible, so Jose could come to nothing at all.

Hurricane Jose has winds of 75 mph and a central pressure of 971mb, and the hurricane is expected to weaken somewhat. However it could remain a large and dangerous wind storm should it approach the U.S. coastline.

Hurricane Jose forecast path and track

Hurricane Jose forecast path and track

You can track the hurricane season over at our dedicated page and all of the graphics in this article will update automatically, so stay tuned.

Below you can find the latest update from AIR Worldwide on hurricane Maria:

Category 5 Hurricane Maria Poised to Strike Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands After Devastating Dominica: AIR

BOSTON, Sept. 19, 2017 – According to catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide, Hurricane Maria is on course to strike Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands after hitting Dominica on Monday night and Tuesday morning. At Category 5 strength with maximum sustained winds of almost 160 mph, it was the strongest hurricane to ever make landfall in Dominica. The storm weakened briefly to Category 4 as it interacted with Dominica’s mountainous terrain, but has reintensified in the warm waters of the Caribbean, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

As of the NHC’s 2:00 PM ET advisory, Maria is located approximately 140 miles west of Guadeloupe. The storm, traveling west-northwest at about 10 mph, is expected to reach Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands tonight and into Wednesday as a very dangerous major hurricane, accompanied by life-threatening storm surge that will raise water levels to as much as 7 to 11 feet above normal. A hurricane warning is in effect for Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Culebra, and Vieques.

Torrential rainfall, capable of producing flash floods and landslides, is also expected. Predicted total rainfall amounts are 10 to 15 inches in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands (with isolated pockets of up to 20 inches possible), and 12 to 18 inches in Puerto Rico (with isolated pockets of up to 25 inches possible).

According to early reports, Dominica, with a population of 72,000, has been left in ruins by Hurricane Maria. The prime minister stated that severe roof damage is extensive throughout the island, and the roof of his own house was blown off. Phone and internet connection is down as of Tuesday morning, and radio stations across the country are silent. Airports and seaports are expected to be shut for several days.

According to AIR, Maria passed south of Guadeloupe, subjecting it to tropical storm force winds.
Some 80,000 households lost power, and a communications blackout means that damage reports are scarce thus far. Early reports show downed trees and some severely flooded homes and streets. It is noteworthy that Guadeloupe has been a staging ground for the regional aid response to Hurricane Irma in addition to serving as the refuge for people from St. Martin, which was badly hit by Hurricane Irma two weeks ago. The widespread devastation caused by Hurricane Maria could compound the difficulties involved in the recovery process from both these recent disasters.

Maria is expected to be the first Category 4 or 5 hurricane to make landfall in Puerto Rico in 85 years. The Governor of Puerto Rico has declared a state of emergency and has ordered evacuations for areas prone to floods and landslides, as well as ordering evacuations for certain vulnerable structures.

According to AIR, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, already stunned by catastrophic damage to infrastructure, businesses, and homes just two weeks ago from Hurricane Irma, is bracing for another blow. Many of the residents who have not left the devastated islands are in shelters, and it is feared that some of the reconstruction that has just begun will be undone by Maria. Also particularly worrisome is that the vast amount of debris—including glass, metal, downed trees, and parts of houses—has yet to be cleared in the wake of Irma and will become wind-borne projectiles once Maria arrives in full force.

Caribbean residential building stock is dependent on exposure location within an island (urban or rural) and regional differences. Older urban structures across the Caribbean exhibit a wide variety of construction materials, but the majority of new residential buildings are made of masonry, reinforced concrete, or both. There are diverse roofing practices across the Caribbean, with the most common type for residential structures being timber with metal roof covering, applied with corrugated or standing seam.

Most commercial structures in the Caribbean are low- to mid-rise, comprising one to six stories. Small apartments, hotels, offices, and other low-rise commercial properties are usually masonry, or reinforced or block concrete. As with residential buildings, there is regional variability.

According to AIR, in Puerto Rico, a large percentage of residential homes are made of reinforced concrete and are thus highly resistant to wind damage. Puerto Rico also has relatively high building code enforcement, which reduces building vulnerability. The “Bunker” style is a concrete building type unique to Puerto Rico that is used for both residential and non-residential structures across the island. Some single-family homes and apartments employ the bunker style, as do various federal court buildings, prisons, and selected neighborhood commercial structures. Bunker buildings have walls made of reinforced concrete, often combined with reinforced masonry. Bunkers have either small “Miami” windows, or highly wind-resistant windows. Bunkers became more prevalent in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

Puerto Rico infrastructure, weakened by the island’s decade-long economic slump, may be very vulnerable to flood and wind damage.

After passing through Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, Hurricane Maria is expected to curve toward the north, passing north of the Dominican Republic. It is expected to maintain major hurricane strength through Saturday morning, and it is currently uncertain whether the storm will impact the U.S. mainland.

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