Storm watches have been issued for North Carolina as the U.S. is threatened by a hurricane for the fourth time in a month.
Tropical storm watches, meaning winds of at least 39 miles (63 kilometers) per hour could reach the coast of North Carolina as early as Tuesday, have been posted from Surf City to the Virginia border, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in a 5 p.m. New York time advisory. In addition, a surge watch has been posted from Cape Lookout to Duck because Maria may raise ocean levels by 4 feet (1.2 meters).
“It is likely that some direct impacts will occur along portions of the coast beginning Tuesday,” wrote Daniel Brown, a warning coordination meteorologist at the center. “Storm surge flooding especially along the sound side of the North Carolina Outer Banks is possible.”
Hurricane Maria completely knocked out Puerto Rico’s power grid when it struck the island as Category 4 storm Wednesday, after devastating the island nation of Dominica the day before. Across the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, tropical storms have killed at least 100. Ten people died on the U.S. commonwealth, according to the Associated Press.
A record three Category 4 hurricanes have hit the U.S. since Harvey came ashore in Texas on Aug. 25, causing an estimated $170 billion damage, according to Enki Research in Savannah, Georgia. When damage across the Caribbean is considered, the current Atlantic season could cost $300 billion, said Joel Myers, founder, president and chairman of AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania.
Maria’s economic cost to Puerto Rico may increase if the islands sees an exodus of residents fearful that water and power could be out for months, said Chuck Watson, of Enki Research.
“The people most able to leave — professionals, middle class — may well choose to leave,” Watson said Sunday. “Those people are vital to restore normalcy, so a recovery death spiral of sorts starts.”
If that happens, Maria’s effect on Puerto Rico could easily reach $60 billion to $70 billion, Watson said.
The storms had deep impacts on markets as well. Harvey temporarily shut about 25 percent of oil and natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico and 10 percent of U.S. refining capacity. Hurricane Irma subjected Florida’s citrus groves to fruit losses that have wiped out some farmers. Maria’s tropical-storm strength winds reach out 230 miles from its center, about the distance between Boston and New York. The storm’s large size mean it will be able to reach North Carolina even if its core doesn’t come close to the state, Brown wrote in his forecast. On its current track, Maria will stay out to sea coming parallel with North Carolina on Wednesday before turning east into the open Atlantic.
Maria has already begun to affect the seas along the U.S. East Coast. A buoy 272 miles off Charleston, South Carolina, reported waves of 21.7 feet and winds of 33 mph, according to the National Data Buoy Center website. Another off the North Carolina coast recorded 10-foot waves.
Ships plying the Eastern Seaboard have been warned of high winds and waves reaching as high as 28 feet within about 290 miles of the coast from Delaware to South Carolina, according to the National Weather Service. Closer to where Maria is forecast to move over the Atlantic, individual waves could reach 80 feet.
Along with Maria, Hurricane Lee, a Category 1 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, is churning in the central Atlantic and isn’t a threat to land, the hurricane center said. In all, six storms have become strong enough to earn names and all have gone on to become hurricanes. Four became major systems, Category 3 or stronger, including Harvey, Irma and Maria.
While the past month has been devastating, the 2017 season doesn’t end until Nov. 30 and warm ocean temperatures suggest there are more storms to come, said Phil Klotzbach, lead author of the Colorado State University seasonal hurricane forecast.
The ocean temperatures “match up well with what is typically observed when the end of the Atlantic hurricane season is active,” Klotzbach said in a tweet last week.