The Facts, Timeline, and Impact of Hurricane Maria

Hurricane Maria 2017 beachfront damage
Hurricane Maria 2017 beachfront damage. .

Rebecca E. Marvil / Getty Images

Known for the devastation it caused in Puerto Rico and Dominica, Hurricane Maria is a Category 5 storm that devastated the Caribbean Islands from Sept. 16-30 during the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season. It followed on the heels of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and collectively, this tropical trio caused a cumulative $265 billion in damages, contributing to 2017's rank as the United States' costliest year for weather and climate disasters.

Maria, which also inflicted serious damage on other islands of the Caribbean, including the Lesser Antilles island chain and the Dominican Republic, is also record-breaking. It ties Hurricane Wilma (2005) as the most rapidly intensifying storm, a title it secured when it strengthened from a tropical storm to a Category 5 hurricane in just 54 hours.

Hurricane Maria Timeline

Satellite image of Hurricane Maria over Dominica.
A Category 5 Maria makes landfall in Dominica on the evening of Sept. 18, 2017.

CIRA/NOAA / Flickr / Public Domain

Sept. 16

Maria was born from a disturbance off the west coast of Africa on Sept. 12. On Sept. 16, the disturbance organized enough to become a tropical depression about 600 nautical miles east of Barbados. It was named Tropical Storm Maria that same day. 

Sept. 17-18

Maria rapidly intensified, becoming a hurricane by the afternoon of Sept. 17, a major hurricane by mid-morning on Sept. 18, and a Category 5 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph that evening. Keeping this intensity, Maria made landfall in Dominica shortly before midnight.

Sept. 19-20

Dominica’s mountainous landscape weakened Maria to a high-end Category 4, but in the pre-dawn hours of Sept. 19, the storm regained Category 5 strength, this time with maximum sustained winds of 173 mph—the storm’s peak intensity. 

After passing within 30 miles of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, a slightly weakened Maria—which downgraded to a Category 4 during an eyewall replacement cycle—made landfall near Yabucoa, Puerto Rico early on Sept. 20. Maria’s center cut diagonally across Puerto Rico from southeast to northwest, then emerged in the western Atlantic as a Category 2 that afternoon. As the storm trekked northwestward, its rains and winds impacted the eastern Dominican Republic.  

What Is Eyewall Replacement?

Eyewall replacement is a feature of major hurricanes (Categories 3, 4, and 5). It occurs when a cyclone’s “eye,” or center, shrinks, and some of the outer rainbands form a new eyewall that robs the old one of its energy. As the old eye fizzles out, the storm weakens, but once the new eye is in place, it re-intensifies.

Sept. 21-23

On Sept. 21, hours after exiting Puerto Rico, Maria re-intensified yet again, this time to a Category 3. Maria’s center passed 30 to 40 nautical miles east of the Turks and Caicos Islands on Sept. 22.

Sept. 24-27

Maria remained a major hurricane until Sept. 24, when it downgraded to a strong Category 2 storm. It weakened to a Category 1 later that night. Over the next few days, the storm tracked parallel to the U.S. coastline, continuing to gradually weaken. It came within 150 miles of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, on Sept. 27, bringing tropical-storm-force winds to the state’s Outer Banks region.

Sept. 28-30

On Sept. 28, Maria took a sharp turn eastward out into the open Atlantic, where it weakened to a tropical storm. On the morning of Sept. 30, Maria became post-tropical. It dissipated while over the north Atlantic, about 400 nautical miles southwest of Ireland. 

The Aftermath of Maria

Hurricane Maria 2017 damage in Dominica
Damage to Dominica the morning after Hurricane Maria's passage on Sept. 19, 2017.

Roosevelt Skeritt / Flickr / Public Domain

Having claimed 2,981 lives, and caused an estimated $96.3 billion U.S. dollars in damages, Hurricane Maria was among the Atlantic's deadliest and costliest storms. Compounding this damage was the fact that, because Hurricane Irma had blown through the same stretch of the Caribbean earlier in the month, many of the remaining structures were extremely vulnerable to Maria’s winds. Roofs were blown off of homes, roads were made impassable due to wind-blown debris, and communication services were all but destroyed.

Maria not only dumped torrential rains on Dominica but reduced the island's landscape, which is dominated by tropical rainforests and tropical preserves, to an immense field of downed trees and debris. The agricultural sector was essentially decimated. In fact, Maria caused damages equivalent to 226% of Dominica’s annual gross domestic product, according to a post-Maria assessment report by the Government of the Commonwealth of Dominica.

Guadeloupe, which lies to the north of Dominica, also endured widespread agricultural damage, including the loss of nearly all of its banana crop.

Hurricane Maria 2017 damage in Puerto Rico
Heavy rains triggered mudslides and washed out roads across the island of Puerto Rico.

cestes001 / Getty Images

Along with Dominica, Puerto Rico was among the hardest-hit islands. According to the National Hurricane Center’s Hurricane Maria Tropical Cyclone Report, Maria knocked down 80% of Puerto Rico’s utility poles, leaving virtually all of the island’s 3.4 million residents in the dark. Rainfall accumulations across the island ranged from five to nearly 38 inches and triggered massive landslides. 

The World Meteorological Organization retired the name Maria, barring its use for any future tropical storms or hurricanes in the Atlantic. It was replaced by Margot.

Recovery and Impact Years Later

Hurricane Maria 2017 recovery in Puerto Rico
Full electrical power wasn't restored in Puerto Rico until August 2018.

South Atlantic Division USACE / Flickr / Public Domain

Similar to Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. government's response to Maria was widely criticized as slow and inadequate, including by San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. For example, A PBS Frontline- and NPR-led investigation compared the Trump administration's responses to Category 4 Hurricanes Harvey and Irma (which hit the U.S. mainland) to that for Category 4 Hurricane Maria. It revealed that at nine days post-storm, 2.8 million liters of water had been delivered to Puerto Rico, compared to 4.5 million liters in Harvey-ravaged Texas, and 7 million liters in Irma-ravaged Florida. The storm relief optics weren't favorable either, with then-President Trump visiting Texas and Florida just four days after Harvey and Irma, respectively, hit, while it was two weeks before he made it a point to visit the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.

According to the National Hurricane Center’s Hurricane Maria Tropical Cyclone Report, about half of Puerto Rico’s residents had power restored by the close of 2017, and 65% by the end of January 2018. The island didn’t fully regain electricity until around the one-year anniversary of Maria.

In 2018, the Dominican government formed the Climate Resilience Execution Agency of Dominica (CREAD), whose goals are to enhance the commonwealth's resilience to future hurricanes, earthquakes, and climate change, as well as become the world’s first hurricane-proof and climate-resilient nation by the year 2030

View Article Sources
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  2. "Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters: Events." National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

  3. Pasch, Richard J., et al. "National Hurricane Center Tropical Cyclone Report: Hurricane Maria (AL152017)." National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

  4. "Hurricane Maria Advisory Archive." NOAA National Hurricane Center.

  5. "Post-Disaster Needs Assessment Hurricane Maria September 18, 2017." Government of the Commonwealth of Dominica.