“Will it or won’t it?” is Thursday’s tough question. Will the low-pressure system now heading westward toward the area make that last leap into a depression or Tropical Storm Bertha? Or will it just bring rain and gale-force winds on Saturday?
“It’s a very uncertain system,” meteorologist Walter Snell at the National Weather Service in San Juan said just after the 8 p.m. update Thursday from the National Hurricane Center.
As of 8 p.m. the low-pressure area that’s been heading west for several days was still a low-pressure system. That said, Snell said the meteorologists will have a better idea of what the system will do Friday after it crosses into the Caribbean. He said that there is lots of dry air north of the system that will inhibit development.
He’s optimistic, however, that the Virgin Islands will just get rain because even if the low pressure area develops into a tropical storm, the center will be south of the territory.
According to the National Hurricane Center update, winds are 40 to 45 mph across the northern and eastern sections of the circulation. It’s moving west-northwest at 20 mph. The update indicates that showers and thunderstorms have increased east of the center during the past couple of hours, and if this development trend continues a tropical storm could form later Thursday night or early Friday.
Meanwhile, government agencies are making plans. Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes said Thursday in a Government House press release that any announcements about Saturday’s primary election will be made by Friday. She said preparations for inclement weather are being made by the two district boards but, as of Thursday, the plan is to go forward with Saturday’s voting.
The V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency said it was continuing to monitor system and that preparations to activate the Emergency Operations Centers, if necessary, have begun.
“VITEMA is also in constant coordination with local government agencies and federal partners at FEMA Region 2 and its Caribbean Area Division. A FEMA support team is expected to be on the ground by Friday,” VITEMA Director Elton Lewis said, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The V. I. Water and Power Authority said in a press release issued Thursday that when a storm threatens, all employees are designated as essential and will report to work as scheduled to assist in the restoration of the electric and water systems in the event storm damage occurs.
According to the press release, WAPA will maintain services as long as possible and will not intentionally turn off power in the event of a storm. Chief Operating Officer and emergency response coordinator Gregory Rhymer said that the “three-strike rule” will apply. If a feeder loses service, control room operators will try three times to safely restore the feeder. If unsuccessful, the feeder will remain without service until the storm passes and systems are evaluated for damage.
WAPA indicated it has adequate fuel and water storage to serve all customers. Power plant personnel are currently securing generating equipment, water plants, fuel dock facilities, buildings and all other areas to minimize possible damage. Line and engineering departments have designated damage assessment teams and restoration crews throughout the territory to immediately address problems in the field once the storm has passed.
WAPA’s contracted restoration companies will be placed on standby if weather projections indicate that assistance will be needed for high voltage work and other support services. Local companies will also be on standby to provide support services.
Emergency radio and telephone systems have been checked and determined fully operational, and WAPA representatives will staff the emergency call centers to take calls from customers experiencing electricity and/or water service interruptions.
After the storm passes, St. Croix customers should call 773-2250 and press number 7 or 773-0150 to report power or water problems. On St. Thomas/St. John/Water Island, reports can be made to 774-3552 and press number 4 or to 774-1424. Customers should be prepared to give accurate information including clear directions to the home or business with the problem.
Customers are reminded that feeder listings and operational updates are always available at www.viwapa.vi.
All residents should have adequate drinking water and food available with extra batteries for flashlights and radios. Life support devices should be checked and backup power systems should be secured.
Residents are cautioned to always stay 10 feet or more away from power lines and any apparatus that is connected to a power line; assume all lines are energized and immediately report any problems to the emergency numbers. Power customers should also have an electrician secure their building’s weather head, which is the service point where the building’s overhead electrical service connects to the feeder wires.
Water customers should locate and mark their potable water safety valve if it becomes necessary to turn off the water due to a pipe break, and then report the damage to the emergency numbers. Be sure all faucets are locked in the off position.
The V.I. Waste Management Authority advised all residents and visitors to dispose of all household waste at the waste disposal bin sites throughout the islands on Friday to allow for the agency and their contractors to empty the bins on prior to the passage of Saturday’s anticipated bad weather.
Residents are reminded to clear their homes and yards of any debris that could become airborne, to remove any loose or low-hanging branches, and to secure any outdoor furniture, gas cylinders or other items prior to the arrival of any major inclement weather.
Residents are advised that due to the expected inclement weather the sewer collection system may experience a large inflow of storm water, which may cause overflows in certain areas.
The flow of rain water and storm water entering the sewer system may exceed the pumping capacity at various pump stations that pump sewage from residential and businesses to the wastewater treatment plants. After the rain and the storm water run-off subside, the sewer collection system may continue to be impacted.
Motorists are asked to use extreme caution when traversing through flooded roadways during and after the storm to avoid potential and known areas of manhole overflows. Residents are asked to avoid areas with standing waters. Persons with impacted immune systems are especially reminded to avoid all flood areas.
Residents are asked to report any sewer overflows to the VIWMA at 715-9100 on St. Thomas, to 712-4962 on St. Croix and to 774-2141 on St. John.
As the territory prepares for a possible storm, Colorado State University hurricane forecasters updated their prediction for the remainder of the season. Phil Klotzbach and William continue to predict a below-average hurricane season for the Atlantic basin in 2014, citing exceptionally unfavorable hurricane formation conditions in the tropical Atlantic combined with the likely development of a weak to moderate El Niño event. The below-average prediction is largely due to strong vertical wind shear, dry mid-level air and cool sea surface temperature anomalies in the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean.
“So far, the 2014 season is exhibiting characteristics similar to the 1957, 1986, 1993, 2002, and 2009 hurricane seasons, all of which had below-normal hurricane activity,” Klotzbach said.
The team is calling for a total of 10 named storms during the Atlantic hurricane season that runs through Nov. 30. Of those, researchers expect four to become hurricanes and one to reach major hurricane strength with sustained winds of 111 miles per hour or greater. This is the same as they predicted in early June at the start of hurricane season.
The team predicts that 2014 tropical cyclone activity will be about 70 percent of the average season. By comparison, 2013’s tropical cyclone activity was about 45 percent of the average season.
Hurricane Arthur formed in early July, so an additional nine named storms and three hurricanes are predicted for the remainder of the hurricane season. The report also includes the probability of major hurricanes making landfall during the remainder of the hurricane season. They put the probability at 30 percent for the Caribbean. The average for the last century is 42 percent.
The team bases its forecasts on more than 60 years of historical data that include Atlantic sea surface temperatures, sea level pressures, vertical wind shear levels (the change in wind direction and speed with height in the atmosphere), El Niño (warming of waters in the central and eastern tropical Pacific), and other factors.
Gray cautioned coastal residents to take the proper hurricane precautionary measures each year, regardless of the amount of activity being forecast.
“It takes only one landfall event near you to make this an active season,” he said.