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Nate Will Deliver A Soaking Rain in West Virginia

The Free Press WV

West Virginia is about two weeks into a significant dry spell, but a hurricane now in the Gulf of Mexico will change that early next week.

“There’s been little rain across the state over the past two weeks,” said Simone Lewis at the National Weather Service in Charleston. “The most precipitation we have seen has generally been across the northern panhandle.”

A massive high pressure system has been parked over the state for those two weeks and it’s produced not only dry conditions, but above normal temperatures. But Hurricane Nate is expected to hit the Gulf Coast on Saturday as a Category 1 storm. As it moves inland, it will bring West Virginia a much needed soaking.

“Remnants of Nate are going to move onshore into the southern gulf states over the weekend and it will move into West Virginia in the Sunday to Monday time frame,” Lewis explained. “That’s going to bring us finally some moisture. We’re looking at a pretty good soaking rain Sunday night into Monday. We’re looking at a good two to four inches the state could see out of it.”

The rainfall is expected to end on Monday evening and return to dry conditions by Tuesday. Lewis said it’s the kind of rain West Virginia needs without too many concerns.

“For the most part it should just be a slow, soaking rain,” she said. “There may be a few periods of gusty winds at times, but nothing too significant to worry about.”

Weather

The Free Press WV

►  Tropical Storm Nate blamed for 17 deaths; threatens U.S. coast

Newly formed Tropical Storm Nate was blamed Thursday for at least 17 deaths across Central America as it dumped rain across the region on a path that would carry it toward a potential landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast as a hurricane over the weekend. Louisiana officials ordered some people there to evacuate.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm could cause dangerous flooding by dumping as much as 15 to 20 inches (38 to 50 centimeters) of rain on Nicaragua, with higher accumulations in a few places.

It had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph (65 kph) at midday Thursday and was likely to strengthen over the northwestern Caribbean Sea Thursday night and Friday before a possible strike on the Cancun region at the tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

In Nicaragua, Nate’s arrival followed two weeks of near-constant rain that had left the ground saturated and rivers swollen. Authorities placed the whole country on alert and warned of flooding and landslides.

Nicaragua’s vice president and spokeswoman, Rosario Murillo, said that at least 15 people had died in that country due to the storm. She didn’t give details on all the deaths, but said two women and a man who worked for the Health Ministry were swept away by a flooded canal in the central municipality of Juigalpa.

The government closed schools nationwide.

Costa Rica’s President Luis Guillermo Solis blamed two deaths in that country on the storm. Flooding drove 5,000 residents into emergency shelters.

In Louisiana, officials ordered the evacuation of part of coastal St. Bernard Parish east of New Orleans ahead of the storm. Earlier Thursday, a voluntary evacuation was called in the barrier island town of Grand Isle south of New Orleans.

New Orleans officials outlined steps to bolster the city’s pump and drainage system. Weaknesses in that system were revealed during summer flash floods.

The storm was centered about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, and was moving northwest near 9 mph (15 kph).

The forecast track showed the storm could brush across the tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula late Friday night and then hit the U.S. Gulf Coast as a hurricane by Sunday morning. Forecasters said hurricane conditions were possible in Mexico Friday night.

In the Pacific, former Tropical Storm Ramon dissipated off the southwestern coast of Mexico.

Fall Weather Is Coming

The Free Press WV

West Virginia will finally see a change in the weather and temperatures becoming much more autumn like for the latter half of the week.

Wednesday temperatures flirted with record highs in several locations, but Meteorologist Simone Lewis with the National Weather Service in Charleston indicated the forecast did not anticipate any new records to be set on Wednesday. In fact, despite the high heat this week, only one record high has fallen.

“The only one I’m aware of is the Elkins record for yesterday (Tuesday),” said Lewis. “It was 88 degrees and that broke the old record of 87 which was set in 1930.”

Chances are unlikely for any more records to fall as Thursday arrives.

“We have a strong cold front that is going to move into the area this evening and overnight,” said Lewis. “By tomorrow (Thursday) we’re looking at highs only in the 70’s and that will be followed by a secondary front on Friday and that will bring even cooler air into the area for the weekend.”

Simone added despite the more seasonal temperatures, the chances of any significant precipitation were highly remote as well headed into the weekend.

Day 5 In Storm-Ravaged, Blacked-Out Puerto Rico: ‘This Is Chaos’

The Free Press WV

A nursing home in San Juan made desperate pleas for diesel as its power generator ran low. An elderly man was carried out on a stretcher after going a week without dialysis. Children wearing nothing but diapers camped out on balconies to stay cool.

This is Puerto Rico’s hottest time of the year – and next to nobody has air conditioning. Hurricane Maria, which smashed into the island five days ago and devastated the power grid run by Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, couldn’t have struck at a worse time. Crews have descended upon the island to begin the arduous task of resurrecting what was an already aging and long-neglected system. But that’ll take weeks, if not months – meaning more sleepless, summer nights for those like Juan Bautista Gonzalez.

“It’s brutal,“ said Gonzalez, 36, a carpenter sitting on a stoop in Old San Juan, rubbing his forehead in frustration. “No one can sleep. I spend all night tossing and turning. This is chaos.“

The destruction that Maria exacted on Puerto Rico’s fragile electricity system when it slammed ashore as a Category 4 storm is unprecedented – not just for the island but for all of the U.S. Every part of the grid run by the electric authority known as Prepa was damaged.

In the 32 years that National Guard Brig. Gen. Wendul G. Hagler II has served, he said, “It’s about as large a scale damage as I have ever seen.“ Hagler had visited the U.S. Virgin Islands just before Maria hit.

For an indication of how long it’ll take for Puerto Rico to rebuild the system, Governor Ricardo Rossello points to Hurricane Hugo, a powerful storm that ravaged the region in 1989. Some had electricity within two months of Hugo. Others spent six months waiting. “It’s a gradual thing,“ Rossello told reporters on Sunday. “You have to be careful not to alarm people.“

The lack of phone and Internet access isn’t helping. Puerto Ricans pulled over along highways over the weekend to take advantage of the rare spots where cellular service was available. They called into the few radio stations still working in an attempt to connect with relatives.

To make matters worse: Puerto Rico’s power plants seem inexplicably clustered along the island’s south coast, a hard-to-reach region that was left exposed to all of Maria’s wrath, said Kenneth Buell, a director at the U.S. Energy Department who is helping lead the federal response in Puerto Rico. A chain of high-voltage lines thrown across the island’s mountainous middle connect those plants to the cities in the north.

Puerto Rico’s rich hydropower resources have also taken a hit. On Friday, the National Weather Service pleaded for people to evacuate an area in the northwest corner of the island after a dam failed. The rest of the dam is still at risk of bursting.

And that’s not to mention the state of Puerto Rico’s grid before the storm. Government-owned Prepa, operating under court protection from creditors, has more than $8 billion in debt but little to show for it. Even before the storm, outages were common, and the median plant age is 44 years, more than twice the industry average.

“Under normal circumstances, without an emergency,“ Rossello said, it would’ve taken Prepa as long as two years to rebuild its network. “And that’s being aggressive,“ he said.

At this point, the National Guard is looking to clear enough debris for utility workers to move around. Almost 1,400 National Guard personnel are involved in the response in Puerto Rico, moving food and water, helping local law enforcement and supplying engineering support to access infrastructure.

Restoration crews’ biggest priority will be to restore power to essential services – the airport, water infrastructure and hospitals, Buell said.

It won’t be easy. The supply chains the island once relied on to shuttle fuel oil and natural gas to generators, supplying the vast majority of the island’s power, have been destroyed. The Energy Department was looking for alternative sources. Some agencies are capable of flying in fuel, and the government may waive a law that limits the tankers permitted to haul oil and liquefied natural gas between U.S. ports.

Once critical resources have regained power, crews will start the long process of getting power plants back online and rebuilding transmission and power lines.

“Our goal is not just to get things back to normal, but to use the resources at our disposal to rebuild Puerto Rico better than before – to have better infrastructure that can mitigate these effects,“ Rossello said. The island wants to “take what we knew was weak infrastructure in areas like electricity and make certain that we don’t just get it back on line and leave it just as vulnerable.“

Weather

The Free Press WV

►  Harvey. Irma. Maria. Why is this hurricane season so bad?

The 2017 hurricane season has been a full-on assault from Mother Nature. We are under siege, and our attackers have benign names like Harvey and Irma and Maria. But they are callous, powerful, indiscriminate, terrifying, destructive, merciless and relentless.

Is Earth trying to eject us from the planet? Again and again and again the harshest of winds and hardest of rains has pounded on the most-defenseless territories we have. The Caribbean islands, hanging out in open sea. The Florida peninsula, jutting out into danger. The Texas coastline, low-lying and concrete-laden. Nearly a full month of back-to-back-to-back disasters.

This hurricane season – not yet even close to finished – has generated more destructive, land-falling storms than the past few years combined. Four of this year’s monsters went on to become Category 4 or 5, and three of those made landfall in U.S. territory.

Hurricane Harvey seemed to spin up in an instant before hitting land on August 26, only to come to rest for days over Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana. A mind-boggling 19 trillion gallons of rain fell in that storm, which triggered unprecedented flooding. Texas Governor Greg Abbott estimates Harvey will cost the state up to $180 billion – more than epic Hurricane Katrina.

Hurricane Irma was one of the strongest ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean. When Irma maintained 180 mph wind speeds for 37 hours, it set a record for most intense storm for such a long duration – anywhere on Earth. It made landfall September 10, strafing the Florida Keys before terrorizing both Florida coasts in vastly different ways. It knocked out power to millions of people, and some are still waiting for the lights to come back on.

Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico 10 days later as the strongest storm to hit the island since the 1928 San Felipe hurricane. It thrashed the U.S. territory with winds over 100 mph and more than 30 inches of rain. All of Puerto Rico lost power and was under flash flood warnings. The full extent of the damage, and the loss of life, might not be known for some time. It could take months to restore infrastructure.

All of this in just four weeks.

It spurs so many questions: Is this barrage random? Is it part of a natural cycle? Is it the result of climate change? Have we done this to ourselves?

Officials at the highest levels – who create, pass and sign the very policies that affect the environment – are bending over backward to dodge those questions. The political tension is palpable.

“To have any kind of focus on the cause and effect of the storm; versus helping people, or actually facing the effect of the storm, is misplaced,“ EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told CNN as Hurricane Irma approached Florida.

When the question was posed to Donald Trump on his way to visit hurricane-battered Florida, he replied: “We’ve had storms over the years that have been bigger than this.“

To our struggling politicians, Pope Francis offered some advice: Climate change is happening, and you have a “moral responsibility” to do something about it.

“Those who deny this must go to the scientists and ask them,“ he said on a recent trip to Colombia. “They speak very clearly.“

If they continue to deny climate change, he added, “history will judge those decisions.“

This hurricane season is, indisputably, a nightmare. And it’s indisputable that climate change is affecting our weather. The fingerprint of climate change is on every storm, it’s in every raindrop and sunny day. It is a new, yet untested and ill-understood, factor in the way our planet works.

But there are additional elements that had to come together to create such a hellish year.

Hurricanes exist to cool the tropics. The vast majority of sunlight beats down in the 23 degrees north and south of the equator. Without something to disperse the energy toward the poles, Earth’s climate would become unbalanced, quickly.

These planetary heat engines sprout from relatively weak clusters of thunderstorms – waves of low pressure from the coast of Africa – and fester in the warm waters of the Atlantic. They feed on tropical moisture and the sun’s intense energy and, eventually, if they get large enough, will start to spin thanks to Earth’s top-like motion.

Hurricanes can form in rapid succession and travel thousands of miles across the Atlantic, like rail cars on a train track or airplanes lining up for takeoff. Because they can gain steam, spinning themselves up into monstrosities, it’s a trip that can end in the devastation of places like St. Croix, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Southwest Louisiana. One after the other.

We saw this alignment in 2005, and we’re seeing it again in 2017.

“This isn’t a random coming together,“ said Gerry Bell, a hurricane climate specialist at NOAA. It’s a specific combination of environmental factors.

The Atlantic Ocean is in a pattern that’s particularly favorable for hurricanes. Every couple of decades, the pattern flips, but it’s been positive since about 1995.

There have been some exceptionally big seasons in the past two decades. The extreme years tend to happen when the things that weaken hurricanes are not present – like El Nino and chaotic, hurricane-killing winds over the Atlantic Ocean. When those forces stand down, the favorable pattern goes to work.

Factor in some exceptionally warm ocean water and it becomes nearly impossible to avoid a strong season.

“We are seeing some of the hottest ocean temperatures in the planet in the western Caribbean Sea,“ said Michael Ventrice, a research meteorologist at The Weather Company. “This is like rocket fuel for developing tropical cyclones. A major concern for late-season development.“

But hurricanes need to make landfall to generate the kind of disasters seen so far this year. Steering winds determine their path, though they aren’t always as predictable as forecasters would like. Which Florida coast would receive Hurricane Irma’s landfall – Miami or the Gulf – was a result of uncertainty in the wind forecast. It hit near Naples, Fla. and went north, but the massive storm covered the entire state, knocking out power to millions and causing flooding and damage from the Florida Keys to Jacksonville and beyond.

The Florida Peninsula is only about 100 miles wide – a tiny distance on a global scale. Hurricane Irma was going to turn north somewhere near South Florida, forecasters knew that. But a few miles of deviation meant some people were spared while others were inundated with storm surge and damaging winds.

In the same way, Puerto Rico avoided Irma’s destructive inner core, only to be devastated by Hurricane Maria. These winds are fickle, but deadly.

If we zoom out to the big picture, though, the steering winds over the Atlantic Ocean have been very predictable this season. Unfortunately for all the humans who live there, the winds have been guiding hurricanes straight into the Caribbean islands and the southern United States.

It’s a significant shift. For the past decade, those winds were coming from the west, pushing hurricanes away from land and out to sea, rendering them largely harmless.

“We were very fortunate, since 2005,“ Bell said. “But it was just a matter of time before they were going to start making landfall again.“

This year is remarkably similar to 2005, when storm after storm exploded over the Caribbean and then made landfall. Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma are among the more memorable of that year.

The 2017 season is only half over. There will be more storms, and the wind isn’t going to change any time soon. At least one forecast company thinks this heightened level of activity will continue.

“I would be surprised if October wasn’t more active than normal, with one or more potential threats to the eastern Gulf Coast originating in the central or western Caribbean,“ Ryan Truchelut, the president of WeatherTiger, predicted.

More potential threats, more hurricanes. More lives lost and more destruction.

“A lot of people have already been through a lifetime of impacts, but there are going to be more storms, we know that,“ Bell warned. “They have to stay prepared.“


►  Hurricane Maria expected to pass close to the Carolinas this week

Hurricane Maria maintained a category 3 status Saturday morning, slowly moving north and away from the Bahamas with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph. While Maria is not expected to impact any landmass for the next several days, concerns of some type of impact along the southeastern U.S. coast are growing after the latest model runs.

In a manner similar to Hurricane Jose, Maria will drop out of the strong upper-level winds of the jet stream, trapping the storm and preventing its escape out to sea for several days. During that time, Maria will be hovering a bit too close for comfort to the Carolina coastline.

Most global model members keep Maria meandering off shore and away from the East Coast, showing the storm eventually getting picked up by a cold front Friday and pushed out to sea. However, the exact position of Maria’s stall is uncertain, and recent model trends have placed the storm further to the west and closer to the Carolina coast, prompting the NHC to shift their official track in the 11 a.m. update.

Changes in Maria’s track will need to be monitored closely over the next few days. In particular, the exact strength and position of two high-pressure features by early this week will dictate just how close Maria will get the East Coast.

Through the weekend, Maria’s impacts to the East Coast was limited with the NHC’s stating that “dangerous surf and rip currents (are) expected at southeastern United States beaches for the next several days.“ Regardless of the exact track, Maria should track closely enough for tropical storm force conditions to impact the outer banks by early this week.

Hurricane Jose Churns Toward Northeast, Norma Aims for Baja

The Free Press WV

Hurricane Jose churned toward the U.S. Northeast and could cause swells along the coast by midweek, according to the National Hurricane Center, while Norma is aiming for Mexico’s Baja California and a new system is gathering strength in the Caribbean as a busy tropical weather season grinds on.

Jose was about 420 miles south-southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. It’s path could put it well off the coast of New Jersey and New York by Wednesday morning, although it may weaken to a tropical storm again by then, the center said.

Jose joins an already devastating 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, coming just after Hurricane Harvey inundated Texas and Hurricane Irma raked Florida’s west coast, leaving dozens of people dead and upending energy and agriculture markets. In 2012, Superstorm Sandy created about $70 billion of damage after hitting the New York metropolitan region.

As of 5 a.m. New York time, Jose was moving northward at 8 miles per hour with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph. Jose is forecast to remain a hurricane through early Tuesday, the center said. Tropical storm watches may be issued on the east coast, the center said in its latest advisory.

Life-threatening rip currents are expected along parts of the U.S. East Coast, and tropical storm watches may be needed for portions of the area from North Carolina to New England during the next day or two, according to the advisory, the 48th so far about the long-lived weather system.

Jose could affect five refineries along the East Coast that are able to process about 1.1 million barrels a day of oil, Bloomberg data showed.

If it continues toward New York City, Jose could disrupt vessels carrying crude oil, petrochemicals and refined products along the Atlantic seaboard, “particularly those making deliveries to New York Harbor,“ Shunondo Basu, a Bloomberg New Energy Finance meteorologist and natural gas analyst in New York, said on Friday.

Landfall in New England during the middle of the week can’t be ruled out, senior meteorologist Dan Pydynowski said in a statement. If landfall were to occur, the most likely location would be far eastern Long Island or southeastern New England, especially Cape Cod.

There’s a 50 percent chance of tropical storm-force winds for Nantucket, Massachusetts, by Thursday, said Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

If Jose continues on its path, the most immediate impact could be high surf and considerable beach erosion along the shores of the mid-Atlantic and New England coasts, Masters said.

Norma, meanwhile, has weakened to a tropical storm as it heads north toward Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. As of 5 a.m. New York time, the storm was about 155 miles south-southwest of the popular tourist designation, Cabo San Lucas. Tropical storm warnings and watches are in effect, with heavy rain likely and maximum sustained winds of about 45 mph. Steady weakening is expected for the next 48 hours, the advisory said.

A depression in the Caribbean was elevated on Saturday to Tropical Storm Maria and had winds of 65 mph on Sunday. Hurricane watches are in effect for Antigua, Barbuda, Dominica, St. Kitts, St. Martin, St. Barthelemy, Nevis and Montserrat, with storm watches for several other islands.

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