Tropical Storm Laura pounds Puerto Rico; Marco set to become a hurricane: What we know by C. A. Bridges, Northwest Florida Daily News 6 mins readThere are now two tropical storms heading toward the Gulf of Mexico, and forecasters aren’t sure what will happen when they both get there.Tropical Storm Marco formed Friday night over the northwestern Caribbean Sea, strengthened quickly and is now forecast to become a hurricane later Saturday or Sunday as it moves near the Yucatan Peninsula, joining Tropical Storm Laura which is currently dumping rain on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.Both storms are expected to strike the U.S. at or near hurricane force next week, forecasters said. Marco’s path is heading toward Louisiana and Texas, while Laura’s path has moved away from Florida and toward Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
Could hurricanes collide? Here’s what may happen if Laura and Marco meet up in the Gulf
Two hurricanes have never appeared in the Gulf of Mexico at the same time, according to records going back to at least 1900, said Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach. The last time two tropical storms were in the Gulf together was in 1959, he said.
The last time two storms to make landfall in the United States within 24 hours of each other was in 1933, Klotzbach said.
Both Laura and Marco are posing significant forecast challenges for the National Hurricane Center. Weather models varied widely on future intensities, with some forecast models predicting Laura striking the U.S. as a major hurricane nearing the U.S., while others see it dissipating. And how the storms will affect each other in the Gulf of Mexico remains a puzzle.
Tropical Storm Laura
The latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center says Laura was about 85 miles east-southeast of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, with 50 mph winds and moving west at 18 mph.
The storm strengthened Saturday and is forecast to reach hurricane strength early next week in the Gulf of Mexico before making landfall Wednesday somewhere between Florida’s Panhandle and western Louisiana with 75 mph winds.
Laura dumped rain across Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands Saturday morning and was expected to drench Hispaniola Saturday evening, then approach or cross over eastern Cuba Sunday and Monday.
Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez declared a state of emergency and warned that flooding could be worse than what Tropical Storm Isaias unleashed three weeks ago because the ground is now saturated.
“No one should be out on the streets,” she said.
Tropical storm-force winds are extended outward up to 205 miles from Laura’s center, the NHC said.
Locations under a Tropical Storm Warning include Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Locations under a Tropical Storm Watch include the Florida Keys from Ocean Reef to Key West and the Dry Tortugas and Florida Bay.
If Laura goes over land, Puerto Rico and the mountains of Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba could tear it apart and not make it much of a threat to the mainland United States, meteorologists said. But if it misses or skirts land, it could head into warm waters conducive to strengthening as it approaches Florida, meteorologists said.
Laura may pass over the Florida Keys en route to the Gulf. Officials there declared a local state of emergency Friday and issued a mandatory evacuation order for anyone living on boats, in mobile homes and in campers.
Tropical Storm Marco
At 7 p.m. CDT Marco was moving through the Yucutan Channel and was centered about 75 miles west-northwest of the western tip of Cuba, about 510 miles south-southeast of Mississippi River’s mouth, with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph, moving north-northwest at 13 mph.
Marco is now expected to become a hurricane later Saturday or Sunday but should start weakening on Monday and Tuesday.
Tropical-storm-force winds are extending outward up to 90 miles from Marco’s center, the NHC said.
Marco’s center is expected to continue moving north-northwest across the central Gulf of Mexico on Sunday and is forecast to reach the northern Gulf coast on Monday.
A tropical storm warning was in effect Saturday for the province of Pinar del Rio, Cuba.
A storm surge watch has been issued from Sabine Pass eastward to the Alabama and Florida border, including Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Maurepas, Lake Borgne and Mobile Bay.
A hurricane watch has been issued from Intracoastal City, Louisiana, eastward to the Mississippi and Alabama border, including Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Maurepas and metropolitan New Orleans
A tropical storm watch has been issued from the Mississippi and Alabama border eastward to the Alabama and Florida border.
While meteorologists said Marco has a better chance of surviving its early land encounter, then strengthening to a minimal hurricane over warm water, the hurricane center was forecasting it to weaken before it reaches the U.S. Gulf Coast because of decapitating high winds.
States of emergencies in Louisiana, Mississippi
Citing both storm systems, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency Friday night. „It is too soon to know exactly where, when or how these dual storms will affect Louisiana, but now is the time for our people to prepare for these storms,” Edwards said in a statement.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves on Saturday morning followed suit, declaring a state of emergency as the state sees the effects of Tropical Storm Marco as early as Sunday, with Tropical Storm Laura following on its heels.
The government of Mexico dropped the tropical storm warning for the northeastern Yucatan coast.
What happens if they meet up in the Gulf of Mexico? What is the Fujiwhara effect?
If Laura and Marco are close enough together – which may or may not occur – what could happen is something called the Fujiwhara effect, which describes the rotation of two storms around each other. It’s most common with tropical cyclones such as typhoons or hurricanes, but it also occurs in other cases.
When two hurricanes spinning in the same direction pass close enough to each other, they begin an intense dance around their common center, the National Weather Service said. The effect is thought to occur when storms get about 900 miles apart.
Storms involved in the Fujiwhara effect are rotating around one another as if they had locked arms and were square dancing.
Yet, the Gulf of Mexico has its limitations when two storms vie for dominance. Some experts said the watery crater created by plate tectonics (the Gulf) is too small for the legendary Fujiwhara effect.
Instead, one storm typically dominates another in such a confined space, either pushing it away or tearing it apart with tendrils of cirrus clouds marking its own cyclone-toppling wind shear.
AccuWeather senior meteorologist Dan Kottlowski said he believes Marco will be the bigger storm, its counterclockwise swirl shoving Laura into the coast faster than what might be forecast.
But there’s still a chance the storms may not make it to the Gulf as hurricanes.
“It’s still on the table that both of these may fizzle out,” senior meteorologist Jonathan Erdman of Weather.com, said. “This could all be for naught, which might be the most 2020 thing of them all.”
Contributing: Seth Borenstein and Freida Frisaro, Associated Press; Doyle Rice, USA TODAY; Jessica E. Davis, Lafayette Daily Advertiser; Lici Beveridge, Mississippi Clarion Ledger
This article originally appeared on Northwest Florida Daily News: Tropical Storm Laura, Marco path: Hurricane status, Fujiwhara
California fire officials said Saturday that there have been nearly 12,000 lightning strikes in the state since August 15, with over 100 occurring on Friday. Thousands of firefighters are fighting two of the three largest outbreaks of wildfires in history, which were started by the dry lightning strikes.
A new thunderstorm system is expected to bring more dry lightning strikes and gusty winds early Sunday and will last several days, which could create more fires, Cal Fire said.
At leastalready and tens of thousands have been evacuated after hundreds of wildfires broke out in Northern California. On Friday night, fast-moving flames trapped two firefighters, who had to be airlifted to safety.
California Governor Gavin Newsom said Saturday that the White House had approved a major disaster declaration for the state.
The pulse of atmospheric energy last week from Tropical Storm Fausto caused havoc, and the National Weather Service warned Saturday that „elevated moisture and instability from former Hurricane Genevieve” bring a threat of elevated thunderstorms though the weekend and early next week.
These conditions became catastrophic as a result of the historic heat and significant drought, made worse by climate change.
Forecasters issued a Red Flag Fire warning that will go into effect 5 a.m. Sunday and run until 5 p.m. Monday and cover the entire area where the current wildfires are raging from Lake Berryessa to Big Sur, CBS San Francisco reported.
Marin County officials announced Saturday they were shutting down public access to the Marin Municipal Water District wildlands and Mount Tamalpais State Park during the Red Flag conditions.
„Lightning will likely spark new fires across the region, including remote areas,” the Marin County Fire Chiefs Association said in a news release. „Wildfires in remote regions may not become apparent until warmer and drier conditions allow them to grow. Erratic gusty outflow winds may result in dangerous and unpredictable fire behavior.”
Michelle Morales was washing dishes in her home in the Puerto Rican municipality of Guánica Saturday morning when the earth began to tremble.
She ran outside the home with her three children and her husband, as they always do whenever they feel a strong earthquake.
“We never stay inside when it shakes,” she said.
First came el trueno, “the thunder,” which is how the low rumbling noise that earthquakes make is colloquially known. It can sound like the boom of a bomb, or a truck passing by the street, or a plane flying overhead.
“And then suddenly, the house began to shake from side to side, and it stayed vibrating for a while,” she told the Miami Herald of the 3.4 magnitude earthquake.
Morales, 37, is a resident of Barrio La Luna in Guánica, a coastal town in picturesque southwest Puerto Rico. In late December 2019, faults in the region became active, the earth began to shake and never stopped. Since then, there have literally been thousands of temblors in the region, often several times a day.
But on Saturday, the ground shaking was not Morales’ only worry. Laura is expected to bring three to six inches of rain to Puerto Rico through the night and through Sunday. The south and east of Puerto Rico could receive as many as eight inches of rain by the time the storm has moved away, according to the National Hurricane Center. The heavy rainfall, the NHC says, could bring landslides and river flooding. The storm has maximum sustained winds of 50 miles per hour. President Trump approved Puerto Rico’s emergency declaration, which Gov. Wanda Vázquez had requested the day before.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has indicated has this hurricane season has the potential to be “extremely active” in the Atlantic Basin. For all of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, the coronavirus pandemic has made storm preparation more challenging for emergency management officials and residents alike. The people who live Guánica and neighboring towns like Guayanilla, Peñuelas, Yauco, and others must also deal with the risk of earthquakes and damage as they make their storm contingency plans.
Saturday morning’s earthquake presented a possible and terrifying scenario: What if there is a strong earthquake during Laura?
“Imagine if there is a tremor of 4 or more in the middle of torrential rain, where are we going to go?” Morales said. “The safest thing is to go outside. But there will be rain. So we can’t put up a tent because the patio fills with rain.”
Barrio La Luna, Morales said, is prone to flooding.
As of early March, more than 8,000 houses had suffered damages from the earthquakes. In Guánica, the town’s mayor told the Herald that 517 houses were slated to be demolished.
Morales’ house has damage from the quakes. She said the Federal Emergency Management Agency had not approved her family’s application for repairs and funding, but her husband has fixed most of the damage. With subsequent shaking, new cracks have appeared, which they patch as they show up.
Barrio La Luna, multiple Guánica community leaders told the Herald, has been among the most affected by the series of quakes. Morales said that most of the homes were structurally compromised and that there are two entire blocks in her neighborhood in which every house is uninhabitable.
At least one family still spends the night outside their home, and three of her immediate neighbors are living in homes with significant damage. She always checks in on them after temblors to make sure they are all right.
But Morales is positive that they can weather the storm. Managing so many devastating circumstances at once, she said, has prepared her neighborhood for planning for emergencies.
“Since we are survivors, dealing with so many things at the same time, we are ready,” she said.
For years, earthquake experts have warned that under southwest Puerto Rico’s transparent seas, verdant peaks and woodlands lie the potential for deadly earthquakes. The Puerto Rico Seismic Network has noted the region’s seismic activity in its annual reports.
At 4:24 AM on January 7th, mere hours after the island had concluded its Three Kings Day festivities, the sequence that began in late December peaked with a 6.4 magnitude earthquake that struck south of Guánica, in the Caribbean Sea. The earthquake killed one, left the island without power and at least 250,000 people without water.
By the end of January, there had been over 3,000 earthquakes reported within 20 miles of the 6.4 magnitude earthquake’s epicenter. A United States Geological Survey report said that people in the affected areas will continue to experience daily aftershocks, which will eventually become weekly shaking, which will eventually dissolve into the coming decades as intermittent reminders of the time the earth roared every day.
Coupled with the pandemic, the quakes have presented an impossibly challenging scenario for the municipal authorities in Guánica and its neighboring towns.
In early summer, the Maria L. McDougall School had been certified as a hurricane shelter, even if only one of its three buildings could be used, according to the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo(CPIPR.) However, due to damage from recent earthquakes, all the buildings have been deemed unusable.
Rubén Cruz, the municipal director of emergency management in Guánica, said that none of the town’s seven schools could be used as hurricane shelters. According to CPIPR, the municipality, along with Peñuelas, Sábana Grande, Guayanilla, and Yauco were “practically left without schools” after the “quakes disabled more than thirty schools” in the south of the island.
Emergency and municipal authorities then activated the former Franklin Delano Roosevelt School, which closed down in the 1990s but is structurally sound, according to the emergency management director.
It sits on the same street as the infamous Agripina Seda middle school, which collapsed like an accordion during the Jan. earthquake. Guaniqueños acknowledge that a tragedy could have occurred if the tremor occurred on a school day.
By mid-day Saturday, only four people had shown up at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt School, but Laura’s strongest effects had not yet reached the area. Cruz told the Herald that the new shelter can hold up to 50 people, and was equipped to handle Tropical Storm Laura and simultaneous other emergencies.
“There are six feet between each bed, and we give people masks, gloves, hand sanitizers for their personal use. And we also have a tent in the schoolyard, so if there is a significant tremor, we can move people under the carp,” said Cruz.
Santos Seda, the mayor of Guánica, acknowledges that emergency planning for his municipality and surrounding towns is complicated, and the frequent shaking has taken an emotional toll. Since the earthquakes began, government mental-health service teams have been paying visits to town residents.
“This is a never before seen situation; it’s historic, but we are managing,” said Santos Seda. “Our municipal government has done everything possible to manage this crisis, and we just need everyone to do their part.”
As the government authorities in Guánica have prepared for Laura’s arrival, local neighborhood leaders and organizations have been working with their communities to get people ready for the storm.
Team 821, a coalition of 15 community leaders from different neighborhoods in the municipality, formed this year as a response to the earthquakes.
Dagnes López, 47, is a resident of Barrio Fuig and a member of Team 821. On the night of the 6.4 magnitude earthquake, she spent the night at her mother’s house with her kids and pets. She had heard old stories of landslides where her home was located. That night, after the quake, a boulder over 20 feet long demolished her kitchen, and rubble destroyed other rooms. She has been living with her family in her mother’s house ever since.
But the loss of her home has not kept López, who is also a cancer patient, from her work as a community leader. To prepare residents of Barrio Fuig for Tropical Storm Laura, she and a team have visited the neighborhood’s 400-something homes.
She worried that the population, which includes blind, deaf and bedridden people, could be hard to reach in an emergency. Most are not on social media, she said. So López created an online group that includes the children of many of Barrio Fuig’s residents, where she is able to provide updates and get in touch with her older neighbors.
The leader of Team 821, Yeisimar León Martínez, is proud of her coalition’s work and the reach it has across the entire town. During the peak of the earthquake crisis, the organization was able to coordinate relief and aid distribution across some of the hardest-hit areas in Guánica. Their relief and organization work continues to be town-wide as they prepare for Tropical Storm Laura.
Team 821 has identified families who are still living in tents in front of their homes, many of them completely destroyed, and are helping them find housing and providing what resources they need. They are also providing them with information about the available refuges and community centers that are receiving people during Tropical Storm Laura.
The team is also focusing its efforts on building temporary wooden homes. Just this week, the organization built a temporary wooden house for a man who had lost his house during Hurricane Maria in 2017. The houses are designed to withstand tropical storms, even if they can’t withstand hurricanes. For the moment they provide a roof over people’s heads. More homes are in the works for displaced families.
León Martínez, 42, has lived in Guánica her entire life, and she shares Morales’ views, which are those of many other of Guánica’s community leaders: The stream of disasters in recent years has greatly affected the town, but it has also highlighted the resilience of its residents.
But she worries about the government’s capacity to handle all the emergencies and disasters, especially at once.
“I really can’t tell you that Guánica is prepared to receive even a rain shower, because maybe the mayor and the municipality, emergency management, they do as much as they can so the town doesn’t suffer more,” she said, “but Guánica is not going to be ready for anything in many years. In many years.”
On Saturday morning, she was at home with her husband when the 3.4 quake hit the area.
“I said to him, wow this is rough. We have the storm, we have the quakes, we have the pandemic,” she said. “Every time it rains, it breaks my heart, when I think about the people in tents from the earthquakes, the people who have had temporary blue roofs since Hurricane Maria.”
Haitian authorities on Saturday urged residents to prepare for tropical storm Laura, which is expected to bring torrential rains, flooding and landslides before possibly building up to hurricane force as it churns toward the US.
The Atlantic storm season, which runs through November, could be one of the busiest ever this year, with the US National Hurricane Center predicting as many as 25 named storms. Laura is the 12th so far.
„To those people living in at-risk zones, where there could be landslides or floods, be ready to evacuate if the authorities order it,” said Jerry Chandler, director of Haiti’s civil protection agency.
„We are starting to see small regional rainfalls and some wind. This will intensify by the end of the day,” he added.
The Caribbean country, which shares Hispaniola island with the Dominican Republic, has been on alert since Friday.
Laura has gained strength since early Saturday while passing southern Puerto Rico.
The US hurricane center said that while the longer-range forecast is „uncertain,” the storm could reach hurricane strength off the Florida coast early next week, after moving past Cuba and the Bahamas.
There is even a chance that a second storm, dubbed Marco, could enter the Gulf as a hurricane — the first time in recorded history that two hurricanes would be in the Gulf at the same time.
As a precaution, authorities in Haiti have banned coastal navigation until further order.
Chandler, Haiti’s civil protection head, urged people to abide by any evacuation orders: „don’t be stubborn… there are shelters in every zone with the minimum to meet your needs.”
Haiti, a country of 11 million, has seen a relatively low incidence of COVID-19 — with 8,050 cases and 196 deaths to date — but authorities urged particular caution to prevent further spread in the aftermath of Laura’s passing.
„Wear your masks and respect distances, especially in temporary shelters,” Interior Minister Audain Fils Bernadel said at the official briefing. „With COVID, we have considerably less capacity in our shelters.”
Storms pose a serious risk to Haiti every year from June to November. Even a heavy rainfall can threaten the country’s poorest residents, many of them living in at-risk zones, near canals or ravines that can be obstructed by debris and quickly overflow.