JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Hurricane Maria is moving past the Bahamas Friday as a Category 3 hurricane with 125 mph sustained winds. The forecast cone shows a northerly turn as it passes the Turks and Caicos on Friday morning.
Maria weakened into a Category 2 hurricane over Puerto Rico, but built back up to a Category 3 hurricane late Wednesday. It is expected to turn almost due north Saturday and Sunday. The eye of Maria should be about 500 miles east of Jacksonville Sunday afternoon into Monday morning.
Here's how you can expect Hurricane Maria to influence our local forecast as it churns past, over 500 miles east of the Florida peninsula.
Hurricane Maria is forecasted to be in between the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas Thursday night into Friday morning. That positioning would bring easterly winds to our area. Wind travels counter-clockwise around low pressure systems like Maria, so when Maria to to the South and east of us, our winds will be onshore and then turning northeasterly. That means on Friday and especially on Saturday we can expect nor'easter conditions, with coastal showers wandering onshore along with some coastal cloud cover.
As Maria moves north, that will shift our winds first to northeasterly and then to northerly winds. Once that shift to more northerly winds occurs, which should be late Sunday into Monday morning, we will dry out.
Monday and Tuesday will be breezy, sunny and pleasant as a result of Maria passing. The National Weather Service office in Jacksonville noted in their discussion, "If Maria continues to track northward Sunday and Monday then we can expect to see some drying and markedly lower rain chances later in the long term period..."
Friday the swells start to build along our coastline during the evening hours. The waves will be elevated due to Maria through Tuesday. Meteorologist Mark Collins says the winds will be onshore through Sunday and at times gusting to 25 mph. By Monday morning offshore winds develop in the morning with longer lasting NW breezes Tuesday, making Tuesday the day we may see clean surf. He estimates overhead, 5-7' surf Saturday through Tuesday. Swells drop Tuesday evening.
The downside to larger waves is beach erosion during times of high tide and a higher risk for rip currents. High tides during this period for Jacksonville Beach are on Saturday at 10:54 a.m, 11:12 p.m, on Sunday at 11:36 a.m, and 11:55 p.m, on Monday at 12:20 p.m, and on Tuesday at 12:41 a.m, and 1:10 p.m.
With larger waves and onshore winds, a higher volume of water will be driven on the beach with each wave, creating a higher risk for rip currents. According to the National Weather Service, rip currents are powerful channels of water flowing quickly away from shore, which occur most often at low spots or breaks in the sandbar and in the vicinity of structures such as groins, jetties, and piers.
If you choose to go in the water with the risk of rip currents, you should swim near a lifeguard, pay attention to flags and posted signs. If you are caught in a rip current, most importantly you should remain calm. Do not fight the current, instead swim parallel to the shore.
The rip current itself does not pull you down, it pulls you out. People drown in rip currents because they try to swim against it and become exhausted. If you swim in a direction following the shoreline you will eventually swim past the pull of the rip current and be able to swim back to shore. If you cannot escape, just float and tread water until the rip current weakens.
If you need help, wave your arms to try to attract attention from the shoreline.