Florida Prepares as Hurricane Maria Aims Toward Irma-Battered Coast

Orient Bay, on the French-Caribbean island of St. Martin, on September 10. MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty

It's déjà blew all over again for Florida.

Hurricane Maria has intensified into a Category 3 hurricane with strong 125 mph winds—and it's moving perilously towards a Sunshine State still struggling to recover from its sister Irma.

"Stay away, Maria," Patti Murphy Dohn‏ tweeted. "#Irma put us over the edge. South Florida is fed up with hurricane season."

No, thank you.
Stay away, Maria.#Irma put us over the edge.
South Florida is fed up with hurricane season.#SingerIsland#HurricaneMaria

— Patti Murphy Dohn, DHS (@JCSMinistry) September 17, 2017

Other residents didn't even want to see the forecast.

When I see the path of #HurricaneMaria pic.twitter.com/LiWB3psYxp

— Melissa Schmersahl (@Plus1Learning) September 17, 2017

For now, the storm is slowly making its way towards the Leeward Islands—the eastern Caribbean archipelago that was so battered by the storm last weekend—and for now does not look like it will seriously harm Florida. But hurricanes are notoriously unpredictable.

"We're liking what we've been seeing," said Maria Torres, a forecaster for the National Weather Service in Miami.

Torres added that forecasters will know better by the end of the week, when the storm is expected to barrel through the Bahamas, but "right now, the latest tracks keep the storm east of Florida, so we might not be directly impacted like we were with Irma," she said.

That would be good news for a state where 400,000 people were still without power Monday, according to Florida's Division of Emergency Management.
"We could definitely see higher surf and some rip currents along the [east] coast, but it's really difficult to say because we won't know until it gets closer," she said.

A Busy Hurricane Season

During an average hurricane season, there are typically 12 named storms, half of which become hurricanes, Torres said.

This season, there have already been 12 named storms—and four of the last six grew into major hurricanes.

"After Harvey, we've sort of been on a roll," she said of the Hurricane Harvey, which hit at the end of August and left parts of Texas under water and completely devastated. "It's a lot but it's somewhat normal because we were expecting very active season in the Atlantic."

She said there are a number of factors that have helped make this a busy year for hurricane forecasters, including climate change and a delayed return of the annual Pacific Ocean warming known as El Niño.

As a result, Torres said, the Atlantic waters have been acting like "juice" for the storm to "strengthen them to the point where they've become strong hurricanes."

The Atlantic hurricane season peaks in mid-August through mid-October
The number of tropical storm and hurricane days for the Atlantic Basin jumps markedly by mid-August National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The peak of hurricane season is mid-August through mid-October, according to the National Hurricane Center.

"We're not done yet, so even if Maria doesn't hit [Florida], it might be another storm or the one after that," she said. "You have to be ready."