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V.I. STILL IN 'HURRICANE ALLEY'

Changes in technology are giving hurricane forecasters and meteorologists new options in improving storm forecasts. However, an official of the National Weather Service in San Juan, Puerto Rico, warned Tuesday that no amount of technology will allow Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico residents to ignore the fact that they live in a hurricane-prone zone.
Armed with a computer presentation that detailed the 1999 Hurricane season and some of the new technology, Rafael Mojica, the NWS Warning and Coordination meteorologist, told a group of emergency planners that the new methods include the use of several computer models to generate an "ensemble forecast." The models use various weather conditions and principles to anticipate the track of a storm, usually over 72 hours.
Another advance in storm tracking and reporting is the use of dropsondes, a device deployed from a "hurricane hunter" aircraft in the eye of a storm.
In recent years, "the dropsondes have confirmed a perception that has been expressed here since Hurricane Marilyn, that wind velocity in hurricanes is always higher at the higher elevations," Mojica said. Often a "Category One at the surface, or at sea level, could be a Category Three storm at elevations of a thousand feet, like at Mountain Top on St. Thomas."
He summed up his detailed presentation by reminding conference attendees that no level of technology will change the fact that "St. Thomas has a hurricane problem." Mojica said the Northeast Caribbean lies in a virtual "hurricane alley" and there is not much we can do about that.
A similar presentation will be held Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Senate building on St. John. Admission is free.

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