Fiona strengthens into a hurricane as it approaches Puerto Rico

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Tropical Storm Fiona turned into a hurricane on Sunday as it approached Puerto Rico, and forecasters warned it could bring as much as 10 inches of rain in places, causing life-threatening flooding and landslides.

Maximum sustained winds had increased to nearly 80 miles per hour, the National Hurricane Center said Sunday morning. Hurricane warnings were posted for Puerto Rico and the coast of the Dominican Republic from Cabo Caucedo to Cabo Frances Viejo, the center said.

In Puerto Rico, precipitation totals can reach 12 to 16 inches, with local maximum totals reaching 25 inches, particularly in eastern and southern Puerto Rico, forecasters said.

“These amounts of rain will cause life-threatening flash flooding and urban flooding in Puerto Rico and parts of the eastern Dominican Republic, along with mudslides and landslides in higher elevations,” the Hurricane Center said.

The National Weather Service office in San Juan said Sunday: the flow of the Rio Blanco had increased, warning residents along that river and other flood-prone areas should consider moving to higher elevations.

The memories of Hurricane Maria, which ravaged the island as a Category 4 storm in September 2017, are still fresh in Puerto Ricans’ minds. An estimated 2,975 people died in the storm, and the response to the disaster sparked political unrest.

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As of Sunday morning, more than 257,000 customers were without power in Puerto Rico, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks power outages.

The Federal Agency for Emergencies said there had been contact with the Puerto Rican authorities and that the agency had nearly 80 people on the ground to provide federal assistance and coordinate an emergency response. President Biden on Sunday approved an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico, authorizing federal agencies to coordinate disaster relief efforts.

At 8 a.m. Sunday, the tropical storm was about 65 miles southeast of Ponce, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico Governor Pedro R. Pierluisi declared a state of emergency at a press conference on Saturday morning.

The power went out for a few seconds during the press conferencea reminder that unreliable electricity remains a common problem on the island, five years after aging infrastructure was badly damaged by Hurricane Maria.

In Puerto Rico, storm surge and tides could flood normally dry areas along the coast, and forecasters warned that water could reach one to three feet on the south coast if the peak wave occurs at high tide.

The storm could bring four to six inches of rain in the British and U.S. Virgin Islands and up to 10 inches on St. Croix, forecaster said.

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A hurricane watch was in effect for the U.S. Virgin Islands and the northern coast of the Dominican Republic from Cabo Frances Viejo westward to Puerto Plata.

The storm is expected to strengthen on Monday and Tuesday as it moves near the Dominican Republic and across the southwestern Atlantic Ocean, the Hurricane Center said.

The Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June to November, got off to a relatively calm start, with only three named storms before September. There were no named storms in the Atlantic in August, the first time since 1997. But in early September, storm activity increased, with Danielle and Earl both eventually becoming hurricanes, forming within a day of each other.

In early August, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released an updated forecast for the remainder of the season, which still required above-normal activity levels.

In it, they predicted the season could feature 14 to 20 named storms, turning six to 10 hurricanes that could withstand winds of at least 74 mph. Three to five of those could strengthen into what the agency calls major hurricanes — Category 3 or stronger — with winds of at least 111 mph

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There were 21 named storms last year, after a record 30 in 2020. Over the past two years, meteorologists have exhausted the list of names used to identify storms during the Atlantic hurricane season, an event that has only occurred once, in 2005. .

The links between hurricanes and climate change are becoming clearer every year. Data shows that hurricanes have become stronger worldwide over the past four decades. A warming planet can expect stronger hurricanes over time and a higher incidence of the most powerful storms – although the total number of storms could drop, as factors such as stronger wind shear can prevent weaker storms from forming.

Hurricanes also get wetter due to more water vapor in the warmer atmosphere; storms like Hurricane Harvey in 2017 produced far more rain than they would have had without the human effects on climate, scientists have suggested. Also, rising sea levels contribute to higher storm surge — the most destructive element of tropical cyclones.

The post Fiona strengthens to hurricane as it approaches Puerto Rico appeared first on New York Times.

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