Hurricane Maria has a giant wind field, and it’s lashing the Outer Banks with strong gusts

Hurricane Maria (left) and Hurricane Lee (right). Maria’s winds are much weaker than Lee, but it’s a huge storm. (NOAA/NASA RAMMB/CIRA)

The most energetic hurricane month on record continues, with two named storms still spinning in the Atlantic Ocean and four days left until October. Hurricane Maria is on its 11th day — one week after devastating Puerto Rico as a Category 4. Hurricane Lee, no threat to land, will also add to the month’s record-breaking stats as it spins east of Bermuda.

For the first time in 10 days, Maria weakened briefly to a tropical storm on Wednesday morning. By 11 a.m., the storm had regained its hurricane wind speeds. The center was 165 miles east of the Outer Banks on Wednesday, but the wind field was quite large; tropical storm force winds extended an average of 210 miles from the center and were reaching into extreme eastern North Carolina.

North Carolina wind gusts:

Oregon Inlet — 55 mph
Stumpy Point — 54 mph
Rodanthe — 53 mph
KHK Resort — 52 mph
Avon — 51 mph
Hatteras High — 51 mph
Oregon Inlet — 51 mph
Cherry Point — 47 mph
Beaufort — 47 mph
Fort Macon — 47 mph

Mariarsquo;s wind swath from when it formed on Sept. 16 through Wednesday morning. Tropical storm force winds are shaded in orange, while hurricane force winds are shaded in red. (NOAA/NHC)

Tropical storm and storm surge warnings are still effect for the Outer Banks, but conditions will improve by Thursday as the storm drifts further from the coast. Maria will start to move northeast on Wednesday, then rapidly accelerate into the frigid waters of the northern Atlantic by the weekend.

Due to its size and being virtually stalled offshore, much of the Mid-Atlantic coast will see elevated tide levels and large swells Wednesday, resulting in some storm surge inundation and coastal erosion from Ocean City to Virginia Beach and down the Outer Banks. High tide in these areas will occur in the 1-3 p.m. time frame, so any amount of storm surge will add onto that normal water level.

Wind field from NOAA’s high-resolution HRRR model valid on Wednesday morning. (

Roughly 1,200 miles to the east, Hurricane Lee is the exact opposite of Maria. It’s a tiny storm. Tropical-storm-force winds only extend 50 miles from the center — just a quarter of the size of Hurricane Maria, but its maximum wind speed is 115 mph, making it a Category 3 and the season’s fifth major hurricane (Category 3 or stronger).

Lee is not near land and will remain safely over the open ocean, east of Bermuda.

The last season to have five major hurricanes was 2010, and before that, 2008 had five, 2005 had seven and 2004 had six.

Infrared satellite loop of Hurricane Lee. The eastern edge of Tropical Storm Mariarsquo;s cirrus canopy can be seen on the left.

A well-deserved break in hurricane activity looks likely for at least the next week. The last day with zero tropical cyclones in the Atlantic was Aug. 11 — which was a one-day break between storms. We may have zero again on Oct. 1, ending a 50-day span of nonstop action.

As we shift into October, so too does the region of most-likely hurricane formation. At this point our attention shifts to the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. This season is only 75 percent complete, so it’s important to keep an eye on the tropics and the supplies stocked up.

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