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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Tropical Storm Philippe passes British Virgin Islands, moves northwest

By Judson Jones

Tropical Storm Philippe, a weather system that was swirling in the Atlantic Ocean, started to cause flooding and dropped heavy rain across the northern Windward Islands and the Leeward Islands early Tuesday, forecasters said.

Here are three things to know about Tropical Storm Philippe:

— The center of Philippe was passing the U.S. Virgin Islands on Tuesday afternoon. It is expected to produce rainfall in the British Virgin Islands, Leeward Islands and U.S. Virgin Islands into Wednesday morning and could cause flash flooding. While the storm will move north later Tuesday, the strongest winds and heaviest rains are likely to fall in the islands southeast of the center of the storm, the National Hurricane Center said.

— A tropical storm warning is in effect for the British Virgin Islands. The government of Antigua and Barbuda discontinued its tropical storm warning, the hurricane center said. People in the northern Leeward Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico should monitor the progress of Philippe, meteorologists said.

— Philippe is not expected to intensify much in the next couple of days but could strengthen later this week.

Preparations are underway.

All schools in Antigua and Barbuda were closed Tuesday and would remain so until Wednesday, said Daryll Matthew, the minister of education and sports for the country.

“We will be doing a full assessment throughout the day,” Matthew said. “However, all indications suggest that not much damage has been done.”

Schools were also closed Tuesday in the French Caribbean territories of St. Martin and St. Barts, according to The Associated Press.

LIAT, a Caribbean airline, canceled several flights Monday in Antigua, St. Maarten, Tortola, St. Lucia and St. Vincent because of Philipe, the airline said in a news release. The airline does not fly on Tuesday and Wednesdays, and it will not be flying Thursday because of a planned blackout period for the week, which is unrelated to the storm, an airline representative said Tuesday.

We’re over halfway through the Atlantic hurricane 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. On Aug. 10, NOAA officials revised their estimate upward, to 14 to 21 named storms.

There were 14 named storms last year, after two extremely busy Atlantic hurricane seasons in which forecasters ran out of names and had to resort to backup lists. (A record 30 named storms took place in 2020.)

In the Atlantic, El Niño 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.

At the same time, this year’s higher sea surface temperatures pose a number of threats, including the ability to supercharge storms. That unusual confluence of factors has made it more difficult to predict storms.

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 a named storm can hold and produce more rainfall, like Hurricane Harvey did in Texas in 2017, when some areas received more than 40 inches of rain in less than 48 hours.

Researchers have also found that over the past few decades storms have slowed down, sitting over areas for longer.

When a storm slows down over water, it can absorb more moisture. When the storm slows over land, it can release more rain over a single location. In 2019, for example, Hurricane Dorian slowed to a crawl over the northwestern Bahamas, resulting in a total rainfall of 22.84 inches in Hope Town during the storm.

This year features an El Niño 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.

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