[UPDATED] Hurricane Maria Has Intensified Into An ‘Extremely Dangerous’ Category 5 Storm

Hurricane Maria, which is currently following the same Caribbean path as Hurricane Irma, is barreling on a crash course toward the already ravaged Puerto Rico. And to make matters worse, the storm has rapidly intensified, escalating quickly on Monday through Category 3 status and straight onto Category 4, as meteorologist Philip Klotzbach‏ illustrated on Twitter with the above NOAA graphic. And as Klotzbach also points out, Maria now qualifies as the fourth Category 4 storm of this Atlantic hurricane season.

CNN notes that Maria has effectively doubled its strength within the past 24 hours and is now churning away with 130+ mph sustained winds. The storm is projected to intensify further before making landfall on Monday night over the Leeward Islands. The National Hurricane Center now categorizes this as an “extremely dangerous” hurricane, and the Weather Channel adds the word that has grown all too familiar over the past month — “devastating.”

Hurricane warnings are in effect for Puerto Rico and much of the Caribbean:

A hurricane warning is now in effect for Puerto Rico, Culebra and Vieques and remains in effect for both the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat and Martinique. A tropical storm warning has been issued for St. Lucia, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Maarten, Saba and St. Eustatius.

Hurricane watches include Saba and St. Eustatius, St. Maarten, St. Martin, St. Barthelemy, Anguilla and from Isla Saona to Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic.

Meanwhile, meteorologist Ryan Maue analyzes the current storm structure (through satellite imagery) as holding a “Cat 5 signature.”

We will, of course, continue to bring you updates on this hurricane as they arrive, but to tide for now, the NASA_SPoRT Twitter account has dropped this gif of Maria’s eye.

UPDATE – 8:00 p.m. EST: Hurricane Maria has since upgraded to a Category 5 storm.

(Via NOAA’s National Hurricane Center, Weather.com & CNN)