Hurricane Maria’s effect on US not ruled out, forecasters say

As Hurricane Maria lashed the Dominican Republic after a destructive rampage in Puerto Rico and Dominica, the US mainland should not breathe a sigh of relief.

At least not just yet.

Maria is a Category 3 hurricane packing winds of 115 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

While its current model does not show a direct hit on the East Coast, forecasters say, it cannot be ruled out this far in advance.

The hurricane is moving away from Puerto Rico and bringing high winds and heavy rain to the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, according to the National Hurricane Center.

It will then march on to the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the southeastern Bahamas on Thursday night and Friday.

But tracking models are good for three to five days, and anything over that is hard to forecast, according to CNN meteorologist Michael Guy.

Its five-day span shows Maria meandering off the coast of the US, but not what happens after that time frame, he said.

Whether the eye of the storm will hit the US East Coast is a waiting game, he said. And even if it does not make landfall in the US, the East Coast will be affected in some way.

“Most likely it will bring a chance of rain to the Mid-Atlantic up through Massachusetts depending on how close it gets to the coast,” Guy said.

“Regardless there will be high surf, dangerous rip currents and breezy/windy conditions up the East Coast of the US.”

Those who live on the East Coast from the Outer Banks, to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, should monitor the storm for any changes, he added.

While the number of areas affected will be much clearer as it gets closer, Florida could see rough surf and rip tides from Maria as it did from Jose from Melbourne up through Jacksonville.

“Once we have a definitive forecast on where Maria will go after the next five days — then we can be sure if we are in the clear,” Guy said.

Hurricane Maria’s first victim was Dominica, and it showed no mercy over the island nation.

This Caribbean island of 73,000 residents featured lush greenery, punctuated by waterfalls and rain forests. But nearly two days after Maria made landfall, killing at least 14 people, an aerial survey showed trees snapped and strewn across the landscape, and the island nation stripped of vegetation.

The rain forests appear to have vanished, roofs torn away, entire homes ripped open and debris littering the land like confetti.

From there, it wandered off to Puerto Rico, knocking out power in the US territory and devastating an island undergoing a long recession.

Restoring power to everyone could take months, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said.