The hurricane’s core has has moved just offshore of the northwestern coast of the island, according to an Air Force Hurricane Hunter plane.
The eye of the storm is now tracked about 15 miles west of Arecibo and 95 miles east of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.
Maria’s top winds have also reduced significantly from 140 mph to 115 mph at 2pm EDT (7pm BST), downgrading it to a category 3 cyclone.
Little change is expected over the next 48 hours, and Maria will likely remain a dangerous hurricane through to Friday.
The NHC said: “On the forecast track, the center of Maria will move away from the northwestern
coast of Puerto Rico this afternoon.
“The center will then pass offshore of the northeastern coast of the Dominican Republic tonight and Thursday and then move near the Turks and Caicos Islands and southeastern Bahamas Thursday night and Friday.”
The update continued: “Maria’s core is moving over Puerto Rico, with life-threatening wind, storm surge, and rainfall impacts continuing over the island.
“Everyone in Puerto Rico should follow advice from local officials to avoid life-threatening flooding from storm surge and rainfall.
“A Hurricane Warning remains in effect for the Virgin Islands, but conditions should gradually improve there later today.
The NHC warns that dangerous winds could be much stronger on the windward sides of hills and mountains, as well as high-rise buildings.
Residents are strongly urged to heed all warnings from local authorities.
Elsewhere a 6 to 9 foot-tall storm surge is expected to strike Puerto Rico, along the coast, accompanied by destructive waves.
“The deepest water will occur along the immediate coast near and to the north and east of the landfall location, where the surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves,” the NHC said.
Maria is also expected to cause landslides and flash flooding with rainfall of up to 35 inches in isolated areas.
These are the rainfall predictions for the Caribbean:
- Puerto Rico – 12 to 18 inches, isolated 35 inches
- U.S. and British Virgin Islands – additional 5 to 10 inches, isolated 15 inches
- Northern and eastern Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos and southeast Bahamas – 8 to 16 inches, isolated 20 inches
- Northern Haiti – 2 to 4 inches
Here is a full list of Watches and Warnings in effect:
A Hurricane Warning is in effect for:
- US Virgin Islands
- British Virgin Islands
- Puerto Rico, Culebra, and Vieques
- Dominican Republic from Cabo Engano to Puerto Plata
- Turks and Caicos Islands and the…