How Fiona was a different kind of storm than Maria

Five years after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, killing thousands and triggering one of the largest blackouts in U.S. history, the island is now recovering after extreme rainfall and winds from Hurricane Fiona.

72-hour precipitation amount

3

4

5

6

8

10

12

14

16

18

20

inches

Hurricane Maria

2017

San Juan

Arecibo

Ponce

Salinas

Hurricane Fiona

2022

San Juan

Arecibo

Ponce

Salinas

20 MILES

72 hour precipitation

3

4

5

6

8

10

12

14

16

18

20

inches

Hurricane Maria

2017

San Juan

Arecibo

Ceiba

Caguas

Mayagüez

Path of Maria

Ponce

Salinas

Guayama

Hurricane Fiona

2022

San Juan

Arecibo

Ceiba

Caguas

Mayagüez

Ponce

Salinas

Guayama

Path of Fiona

10 MILES

72-hour precipitation amount

3

4

5

6

8

10

12

14

16

18

20

inches

Hurricane Maria

2017

San Juan

Arecibo

Caguas

Mayagüez

Ponce

Guayama

Salinas

Hurricane Fiona

2022

San Juan

Arecibo

Caguas

Mayagüez

Ponce

Guayama

Salinas

20 MILES

As Fiona moved just south of Puerto Rico, the southeast part of the island saw the most rainfall of the storm, with some areas getting at least 20 inches and a few spots receiving more than 25 inches. North of Ponce, the island’s second-largest city, a gauge recorded more than 32 inches. The storm’s core has pulled northwest away from the island, although a few downpours linger.

Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico five years ago. Recovery in many ways had just begun.

During Maria, Puerto Rico saw much more rainfall. Most of the island experienced major deluges. Some of the heaviest precipitation was concentrated in the mountainous areas in the island’s center, where it is most susceptible to landslides. Maria was also a faster moving storm, dropping a massive amount of rain in a 48-hour period.

Maria’s deluge on Puerto Rico

Fiona was a Category 1 storm with 85 mph winds when it made landfall at Punta Tocon, in the southwest of the island after the center of the storm cut a path below the island. After passing Puerto Rico, the hurricane strengthened to a Category 3, its maximum sustained wind speeds increasing to 115 mph, the National Hurricane Center said early Tuesday.

In 2017 Maria slammed ashore near Yabucoa as a Category 4 hurricane with 155 mph winds, and the center of the storm completely crossed through the island. It was the first Category 4 storm to directly strike the island since 1932.

Tracking the path of Hurricane Fiona’s destruction

W. Craig Fugate, FEMA’s administrator during the Obama administration, said Maria and this week’s Hurricane Fiona are nonetheless quite distinct: Maria brought punishing winds that caused destruction across the entire island, while Fiona has triggered floods that have been devastating but appear to be more concentrated.

Maria

Sept. 18, 2017

PUERTO

RICO

DOM.

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100 MILES

Fiona

Sept. 20, 2022

PUERTO

RICO

Maria

Sept. 18, 2017

PUERTO

RICO

DOM.

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100 MILES

Fiona

Sept. 20, 2022

PUERTO

RICO

Fiona

Maria

Sept. 20, 2022

Sept. 18, 2017

PUERTO

RICO

DOM.

REP.

100 MILES

Fiona

Maria

Sept. 20, 2022

Sept. 18, 2017

PUERTO

RICO

DOM.

REP.

100 MILES

Puerto Rico’s battered infrastructure — which was still being rebuilt after Maria — could make recovery from Fiona more difficult.

About this story

Satellite images from NASA.

Tim Meko contributed to this report.

The Atlantic hurricane season

The latest: The 2022 season started out slow, but has rapidly intensified this fall with conditions prime for storms. Fiona brought severe flooding to Puerto Rico before making landfall in Canada, and now we’re tracking Hurricane Ian as it heads for Florida. For the seventh year in a row, hurricane officials expect an above-average season of hurricane activity.

Tips for preparing: We rounded up seven safety tips to help you get ready for hurricanes. Here’s some other guidance about keeping your phone charged and useful in dangerous weather, and what to know about flood insurance.

Understanding climate change: It’s not just you — hurricanes and tropical storms have hit the U.S. more frequently in recent years. And last summer alone, nearly 1 in 3 Americans experienced a weather disaster. Read more about how climate change is fueling severe weather events.

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