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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Franklin becomes the second hurricane of the Atlantic season

The storm left hundreds of thousands of homes without power or potable water.

By Judson Jones, Hogla Enecia Pérez and Livia Albeck-Ripka

Tropical Storm Franklin strengthened to a hurricane Saturday, becoming the second hurricane of the Atlantic season with the potential of gaining major storm status, the National Hurricane Center said.

As of 11 p.m. Eastern time Saturday, Franklin was about 250 miles northeast of Grand Turk Island of Turks and Caicos and was moving north-northwest at almost 8 mph, the center said.

Franklin’s maximum sustained winds remain near 85 mph. The center said that “further strengthening” was expected and that Franklin could become a major hurricane early next week.

A major hurricane has sustained winds of at least 111 mph, corresponding to a Category 3, 4 or 5 hurricane.

The center said satellite and microwave imagery showed that Franklin had become better organized Saturday.

“Early visible satellite images showed a ragged eye, which has become cloud filled in the last hour or two,” the center said. “Deep convection around Franklin has become more symmetric compared to recent days, likely due to a decrease in vertical wind shear.”

Although no watches or warnings were posted, the center said swells generated by Franklin could start affecting Bermuda by Sunday night.

“These swells are also likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions late this weekend into early next week along portions of the East Coast,” it said.

The storm left at least one person dead in the Dominican Republic and hundreds of thousands of homes without power or potable water earlier in the week.

More than 500 homes were damaged in the Dominican Republic and more than 2,500 roads were affected, leaving six communities cut off, officials said. At one point Wednesday night, 350,000 homes were without power and more than 1.6 million did not have potable water.

Franklin was the fourth named storm to form in two days. Tropical Storm Emily was downgraded Monday to a post-tropical cyclone after forming the day before, and Gert was also short-lived. Tropical Storm Harold formed early Tuesday in the Gulf of Mexico and made landfall in Texas in the morning.

Don, which briefly formed as a hurricane in July, was the first hurricane of the Atlantic season.

The Atlantic hurricane season started June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.

In late May, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted that there would be 12 to 17 named storms this year, a “near-normal” amount, forecasters said. On Aug. 10, NOAA officials increased its estimate to 14 to 21 storms.

There were 14 named storms last year, coming on the heels of two extremely busy Atlantic hurricane seasons in which forecasters ran out of names and had to resort to backup lists. (There were a record 30 named storms in 2020.)

This year features an El Nino pattern, which started in June. The intermittent climate phenomenon can have wide-ranging effects on weather around the world, and it typically impedes the number of Atlantic hurricanes.

In the Atlantic, El Nino increases the amount of wind shear, or the change in wind speed and direction from the ocean or land surface into the atmosphere. Hurricanes need a calm environment to form, and the instability caused by increased wind shear makes those conditions less likely. (El Nino has the opposite effect in the Pacific, reducing the amount of wind shear.)

At the same time, this year’s heightened sea surface temperatures pose a number of threats, including the ability to supercharge storms.

That unusual confluence of factors has made making storm predictions more difficult.

There is consensus among scientists that hurricanes are becoming more powerful because of climate change. Although there might not be more named storms overall, the likelihood of major hurricanes is increasing.

Climate change is also affecting the amount of rain that storms can produce.

In a warming world, the air can hold more moisture, which means that a named storm can hold and produce more rainfall, as Hurricane Harvey did in Texas in 2017, when some areas received more than 40 inches of rain in less than 48 hours.

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