After brewing in the Caribbean over the weekend, Hurricane Maria gained Category 3 status and a swirling eye on Monday. As Maria began its descent upon Irma-battered Puerto Rico and the southeastern United States, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration’s GOES East satellite kept watch, capturing the storm’s menacing approach to the Leeward Islands.
The animated map below shows Maria as it developed from a swirling mass in the Caribbean Sea on the afternoon of September 14 into a depression, a tropical storm, a hurricane, and then an increasingly stronger hurricane by the morning of September 18. By 2 pm EST on Monday, Maria had winds of 120 mph and was 45 miles east-northeast of Martinique and 70 miles east-southeast of Dominica. The hurricane, moving toward west-northwest toward Puerto Rico at 10 mph, is continuing to grow at a rapid pace.
The left side of the map also shows Hurricane Jose creeping northward along the U.S. east coast.
Another satellite run by the Global Precipitation Measurement mission (GPM) core observatory used its dual-frequency precipitation radar to capture how much rain was falling within tropical depression Maria on September 17, not long before it was classified as a hurricane. The image below shows intense thunderstorms in the eye wall of up to 9.7 miles in height, which meteorologists refer to as “chimney clouds” or “hot towers.”
These tall cumulonimbus clouds normally appear right before a storm intensifies, near the center of a tropical cyclone. They reach such great heights because they carry heat. According to NASA, “Energy released by rainfall into the center of a tropical cyclone provides the energy upon which tropical cyclones thrive.”
Meanwhile, the temperature on the top of Hurricane Maria was captured by NASA’s Aqua satellite using infrared sensors. In the map below, which shows data captured at 1:35 am EDT on Monday, the darker blue and purple regions show how cold some of the clouds at the top of Hurricane Maria’s storms had become — some approaching 81.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Colder clouds are higher in the atmosphere and are able to produce heavier rainfall than warmer clouds lower to the sea.
All of these maps underscore just how strong Maria has already become — and how much more power it may gain as it moves toward land. The hurricane is first expected to first hit Dominica and Martinique at 8 pm EST on Monday. By Wednesday, the continually-strengthening storm is projected to make direct landfall on Puerto Rico as a Category 4 Hurricane — the strongest storm to do so in 85 years. The governor of the U.S. territory has already declared a state of emergency and evacuations have already been ordered.