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Thursday, September 16, 2021

Tropical storm grace forms over Caribbean, speeding toward islands

The storm was expected to move Saturday night over the Leeward Islands — where the center said conditions were “expected to deteriorate” — before getting to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Sunday. Grace was projected to weaken Sunday night, the center said.

By: New York Times |
August 15, 2021 11:09:39 am
In a satellite photo from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Tropical Storm Grace, the seventh named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, in the Caribbean on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021. (New York Times)

Tropical Storm Grace formed in the eastern Caribbean on Saturday morning, generating tropical storm warnings for Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and other parts of the Caribbean, the National Hurricane Center said.

The storm was moving west at 23 mph with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph, the center said in an advisory at 11 a.m., adding that Grace was about 265 miles east-southeast of the Leeward Islands. The center said Grace was a small storm but “moving quickly” and “gaining strength.”

Other islands with tropical storm warnings include the British Virgin Islands, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Antigua and Barbuda, the center said. Parts of the Dominican Republic were under a tropical storm watch, meaning tropical storm conditions are possible within 48 hours.

The storm was expected to move Saturday night over the Leeward Islands — where the center said conditions were “expected to deteriorate” — before getting to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Sunday. Grace was projected to weaken Sunday night, the center said.

Parts of the Virgin Islands, the Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic could expect 3 to 6 inches of rain, the center said, along with flash flooding. The storm was expected to dump rain on Florida, Cuba and the Bahamas next week.

The storm’s strengthening comes as a powerful 7.2-magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti on Saturday morning. The center said that people on the island should monitor the path of Grace, and that tropical storm warnings for Haiti and other nearby islands “will likely be required” later Saturday.

Robbie Berg, a hurricane specialist at the center, said Saturday afternoon that the island was “vulnerable” to heavy rainfall and flash flooding, but that it was possible the storm would not pass over Haiti.

“The current forecast has the center of the storm moving across Puerto Rico and into the Dominican Republic,” he said. “Whether or not it crosses over Haiti is still up in the air.”

If Grace does reach the island, Berg said, heavy winds and rainfall could be expected in the northern part of the country. He also said the earthquake could increase the chance of mudslides.

“It could have shifted some of the ground and soil which could make mudslides more common,” he said.

One video from Les Cayes, Haiti, showed residents, fearing tsunami warnings triggered by the quake, fleeing a surge of seawater flooding a street. The U.S. Tsunami Warning Center had reported a tsunami threat for some coasts.

Grace is the seventh named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, following several days of floods and power outages unleashed this past week by Fred, the sixth named storm of the season. Fred had weakened to a tropical depression on a slow march through the Caribbean and was expected to slowly gain strength Saturday and become a tropical storm again as it approached the Florida Keys, the center said.

The links between hurricanes and climate change are becoming more apparent. A warming planet can expect to see stronger hurricanes over time, and a higher incidence of the most powerful storms — though the overall number of storms could drop, because factors like stronger wind shear could keep weaker storms from forming.

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

A major U.N. climate report released in August warned that nations have delayed curbing their fossil-fuel emissions for so long that they can no longer stop global warming from intensifying over the next 30 years, leading to more frequent life-threatening heat waves and severe droughts. Tropical cyclones have likely become more intense over the past 40 years, the report said, a shift that cannot be explained by natural variability alone.

Ana became the first named storm of the season May 23, making this the seventh year in a row that a named storm developed in the Atlantic before the official start of the season June 1.

In May, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast that there would be 13 to 20 named storms this year, six to 10 of which would be hurricanes, and three to five major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher in the Atlantic. In early August, in a midseason update to the forecast, they continued to warn that this year’s hurricane season would be an above-average one, suggesting a busy end to the season.

Matthew Rosencrans of the NOAA said that an updated forecast suggested that there would be 15 to 21 named storms, including seven to 10 hurricanes, by the end of the season Nov. 30.

Last year, there were 30 named storms, including six major hurricanes, forcing meteorologists to exhaust the alphabet for the second time and move to using Greek letters.

It was the highest number of storms on record, surpassing the 28 from 2005, and included the second-highest number of hurricanes on record.

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