The East Coast braced for high winds and treacherous surf from Hurricane Maria, which was still churning in the Atlantic days after the storm caused widespread devastation in the Caribbean.
Maria will weaken to a tropical storm by Tuesday night, according to the National Hurricane Center. The dangerous core of the storm is expected to move well east of the southeast coast of the United States during the next day or so.
Maria maintained Category 1 status, with sustained winds of 80 mph on Monday, forecasters said.
“The good news is it is expected to stay weak, we don’t expect any more intensification as it goes north,” said CNN Meteorologist Allison Chinchar. “Then as it starts to veer out toward the east it’s going to come into blocking mechanisms. This is good news. This prevents it from getting too close to the US to actually have a direct landfall.”
North Carolina may bear the worst of the storm, as current forecasts show Maria brushing its coast late Tuesday into early Wednesday. A tropical storm warning is in effect for Bogue Inlet north to the Virginia border, as well as for Albemarle and Pamlico sounds.
A storm surge watch is in effect for Cape Lookout to Duck.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper released a statement Monday urging coastal residents and tourists to be prepared for heavy ocean surf, deadly rip currents and possibly storm surge flooding.
“Visitors to our beaches should stay out of the water during these dangerous conditions and wait until Maria passes,” he said. “Coastal residents should make sure they are ready and their homes are prepared.”
Along with gusty winds, rip currents will impact a large area of the East Coast, Chinchar said. The North Carolina coast may also experience flooding and beach erosion as well as a storm surge.
Although it’s not currently predicted to make landfall along the coast, Maria is the third hurricane to affect the US in the last month.
Rip currents along the beaches of North and South Carolina prompted 25 rescues Saturday, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Tim Armstrong in Wilmington. As far north as New Jersey, where Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty tweeted there were 35 rescues from strong weekend currents, the effects of Hurricane Maria were beginning to be felt.
“Regardless of the exact forecast track,” the storm is so big that “tropical storm-force winds could reach a portion of the North Carolina coast by mid-week,” the NHC said.
Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 60 miles from the center of the storm, the NHC said, and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 230 miles.
Millions of people in the Caribbean are still reeling from Hurricane Maria’s devastation. At least 10 people were killed in Puerto Rico, where much of the US territory is without power and many are without water.
That’s after the storm destroyed the island of Dominica, killing at least 15 people there. It also hammered the Dominican Republic, the US Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos, a British overseas territory.