Aug. 31, 2004 It's not over yet, forecasters say, but it looks like the Virgin Islands got off very lightly as powerful Hurricane Frances passed 115 miles to the north of St. Thomas and St. John on Tuesday.
Intermittent rain and wind started around midday as Frances tracked north of the territory. The northern Virgin Islands will continue to feel the effects of the outer bands of the storm throughout Tuesday evening.
"The bands were passing over the area to the northwest, but now they're shifting to the southwest," Todd Kimberlain, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Juan, said Tuesday afternoon.
Later Tuesday night, he said, the outer bands should hit the territory from the south as the hurricane rotates.
Kimberlain said the weather should be clearer by Wednesday, but some isolated showers are possible.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull announced late Tuesday afternoon that public schools and government offices would reopen for business as usual on Wednesday. A Government House release said the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency "has received no information on damage from any of the islands, with only reports of moderate rain showers at of 5 p.m."
The tropical storm warning for St. Thomas and St. John issued Sunday night was discontinued at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Hurricane Frances, which started the morning as a Category 3 storm with sustained winds of 125 mph, escalated to a Category 4 as the day progressed. At 5 p.m. Tuesday it was still a Category 4 with winds at 140 mph and gusts reaching 165 mph.
As of 5 p.m. the system was centered at 20.5 degrees north latitude and 65.9 degrees west longitude, or about 145 miles north of San Juan. Tropical storm force winds extended outward 175 miles from the center, with hurricane-force winds reaching 70 miles from the center.
The storm was moving west 17 mph. The barometer, which is continuing to drop, a sign of further intensification, was at 939 millibars, or 27.72 inches, at 5 p.m.
The highest wind gust recorded at Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas was 37 mph, Kimberlain said. The airport got some showers, but he said it was probably the only place on St. Thomas not to experience heavy rain. Therefore, the National Weather Service had no heavy rain data from its airport weather station.
Weather Station Zephyr in Coral Bay on St. John recorded a wind gust of 35 mph around 2 p.m. By 5 p.m., 0.7 inch of rain had fallen on Tuesday.
Harold Baker, director of the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency, said late Tuesday afternoon that roads on all islands were clear and there was no flooding. "But we're not out of the woods yet," he reminded residents.
He urged the public to stay tuned to weather broadcasts to see what's coming.
Some residents prepared for Frances as if they were anticipated a big one to hit, a prudent move considering that in 1995 no one expected Hurricane Marilyn to arrive with winds strong enough to cause massive destruction.
St. John vacation villa manager Lisa Durgin had spent the last four days boarding up her 14 rental houses as well as her own.
She posed the question "Would you do all the work and have nothing happen?" And she gave her own answer: In a heartbeat."
Durgin may have to do it all over again long before this hurricane season is over. Kimberlain said a wave now coming off the west coast of Africa looks like it could develop into a storm. Another wave that shows signs of development is west-northwest of the Cape Verde Islands, but it will probably take a track away from the Eastern Caribbean.
As wind and rain came and went throughout Tuesday, resident after resident noted how lucky they were to get off with nothing worse.
Others will not be so fortunate. Hurricane Frances appears to be on a collision course with the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas, where hurricane watches and warnings have been posted. The system is then expected to slam into the southeastern coast of the United States.
"It's all over the television," 90-year-old Delray Beach, Fla., resident Mildred Cost said in a telephone call to a younger relative in the Virgin Islands to make sure her family member was safe.
Cost was on her way out to stock up on non-perishable food and bottled water, a drill all too familiar to Virgin Islands residents who recently did the same thing.
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