The territory remains on a tropical storm warning Saturday due to the anticipated arrival of Tropical Storm Rafael. Sustained winds are at 40 mph with gusts of up to 60 mph expected. Some strengthening is possible.
“But the Hurricane Center doesn’t think there will be rapid intensification, but there will be some slow intensification,” Brian Seeley, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service, said at 6 a.m. Saturday.
Rainfall should reach three to five inches, he said.
“It’s really going to rain,” Seeley said.
He said that although residents may welcome the rain to alleviate the current dry conditions, as the rain continues to fall, flooding was possible. The territory is on a flash flood warning.
As Rafael headed north-northwest, the storm slowed its forward speed to 9 mph, down from 12 when it got a name Friday night. It’s also shifted slightly to the west since then. This means it will pass over or very near the Virgin Islands starting Saturday.
According to Seeley, St. Croix will start feeling Rafael’s winds and rain by midday or early afternoon Saturday with the center closing in on St. Croix around 8 p.m. On St. Thomas and St. John, Seeley said it will start to get bad by the late afternoon with the center passing close by around 11 p.m. to midnight.
No matter how slightly the track shifts, the territory is going to get bad weather Seeley said.
The strongest wind and the most rain are on the east and southeast side of the storm’s center.
“It could be just as bad as it leaves because by then it will be strengthening,” Seeley said.
The seas will be rough with dangerous rip currents on southeast facing beaches.
Rafael’s center should be north of the territory by 2 a.m. Sunday but because tropical storm force winds extend outward 175 miles from the center, bad weather will stick around through Sunday.
As of the 5 a.m. update, Rafael was located 145 miles south-southeast of St. Croix. It is moving in a north-northwest direction.
The coordinates are 15.7 degrees north and 64.2 degrees west. The barometric pressure stands at 1006 millibars or 29.71 inches.
The slowdown gives residents a tad more time to prepare.
“We are advising the public, including the marine community, to take all precautionary measures to protect life and property,” V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency Director Elton Lewis said in a press release.
Lewis ordered a partial activation of the territory’s Emergency Operations Centers at 7 a.m. Saturday.
Lewis said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will arrive Saturday.
The U.S. Coast Guard said in a press release that the ports were open to outbound commercial vessels only. There was no word on the status of the ferry service between St. Thomas and St. John.
The Coast Guard also urged boaters to prepare. Pleasure craft operators are advised to seek safe harbor. Trailer able boats should be pulled from the water and stored in a place that is not prone to flooding. Those who are leaving their boats in the water are reminded to secure life rings, lifejackets and small boats. These items, if not secured properly, can break free and require valuable search and rescue resources be diverted and precluded from assisting people who may actually be in distress.