Tropical Depression 9 became Tropical Storm Isaac at the 5 p.m. Tuesday update from the National Hurricane Center, and conditions should go downhill starting Wednesday afternoon. Meteorologist Krizia Negron at the National Weather Service in San Juan said the territory remains on a tropical storm watch, but that the watch will be upgraded to a warning later Tuesday or early Wednesday.
According to Negron, the storm will be transitioning to a hurricane as the center passes 75 miles south of St. Croix mid-morning on Thursday. Negron said St. Thomas and St. John will be about 120 miles north of the system around the same time.
“St. Croix is going to be the island closest to the system,” Negron said.
While St. Croix will feel the storm more than the northern islands, she said St. Thomas and St. John aren’t off the hook. Negron said winds could reach 70 mph on St. Croix, but St. Thomas and St. John should expect winds in the 39-mph range.
Negron cautioned that there is always a degree of uncertainty in hurricane forecasting, and if the storm gets stronger so will the wind.
“And the wind is going to start picking up as the bands move in,” Negron said.
While Isaac should clear the area by later Thursday, Negron said the territory should still see wind and rain into Friday.
As of 8 p.m., Isaac had sustained winds of 40 mph. Tropical storm force winds extend outward 45 miles from the center of circulation. It was moving west at 17 mph and had a barometric pressure of 1006 millibars or 29.71 inches.
It was centered at 15.5 degrees north latitude and 54.9 degrees west longitude, which puts it about 760 miles southeast of St. Croix.
Although Isaac is getting everyone’s attention, another low pressure area is right behind it. Negron said that the National Weather Service staff is focusing on Isaac, but it appears the storm will pass to the northeast of the territory.
A flurry of press releases from various agencies and departments began rolling in Tuesday afternoon in anticipation of the weather.
Gov. John deJongh Jr. said all executive departments, emergency management planners and responders are ready for the storm.
“There are a number of resources that have either arrived or are en route to the territory from our federal partners: FEMA, the U.S. military and the Army Corps of Engineers in the event that these assets are needed,” the governor said.
DeJongh said he directed the Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner to impose a price freeze that begins Wednesday to protect consumers as they prepare for the storm’s passage. According to Licensing, prices are frozen at existing levels on all items of food, general supplies and services.
Additionally, all items of food and general supplies, whether locally produced or imported, are restricted from being exported or sold outside of the territory. Merchants are also forbidden to alter the ordinary delivery methods, terms, discounts, concessions or methods of payment.
The sale price shall not be higher than the fixed price. All merchants are also forbidden from refusing to accept V.I. government vouchers during the emergency period.
The V.I. Water and Power Authority said it will maintain services as long as possible and will not intentionally turn off power in the event of a storm.
WAPA’s Chief Operating Officer and Emergency Response Coordinator Gregory Rhymer said the “three strike rule” will apply. If a feeder loses service, control operators will try three times to safely restore the feeder. If unsuccessful, the feeder will remain without service until the storm passes.
Rhymer cautioned the public to stay away from fallen lines and to assume they are energized. They should report the problem immediately. 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.
Power customers should also secure their weatherhead, which is the service point where the overhead electrical service on their building connects to the feeder wires.
WAPA indicated it is ready. It has adequate fuel and water storage in the St. Thomas/St. John/Water Island and St. Croix districts. 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 also announced that its four outside contracted restoration companies have been placed on standby if their assistance is needed for high voltage work and other support services.
Local companies will also be on standby to provide support services, the authority said. Emergency radio and telephone systems have been checked and determined fully operational. WAPA representatives will staff the emergency call centers to take calls from customers experiencing electricity and/or water service interruptions.
Under storm conditions, all WAPA 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.
After the storm passes, St. Croix customers can call 773-2250 ext. 7, or 773-0150 to report power or water problems. On St. Thomas/St. John/Water Island, reports can be made to 774-3552 ext. 4, or to 774-1424. Customers should be prepared to give accurate information including clear directions to the home or business with the problem.
WAPA customers are reminded that feeder listings and operational updates are available at www.viwapa.vi.
The Planning and Natural Resources Department announced that it anticipates negative environmental impacts caused by storm-water runoff.
Planning advised the public to refrain from using the coastal waters throughout the territory until further notification. Planning also advised parents to instruct their children to keep away from storm water-impacted beaches as well as areas with manholes and storm water flooding.
There may be an elevated health risk to anyone swimming in areas impacted by storm water as a result of increased concentrations of bacteria. Residents should also be aware that storm water runoff may contain contaminants or pollutants harmful to human health and therefore all persons should avoid areas of storm water runoff like guts, puddles and drainage basins.
Planning suggested residents disconnect or block downspouts leading to cisterns to protect the water source. Residents should have a two-week supply of potable water on hand for each member of the household.
According to DPNR, people use 20 gallons of water a day. Keep a supply of bleach, powdered chlorine or iodine on hand for disinfecting purposes. Sterilize containers to hold water.
Planning advised all contractors, developers and home builders to immediately maintain and implement additional erosion and sediment control practices at all areas where property is cleared, graded, filled or otherwise disturbed.
Planning urged boaters to take their vessels to safe havens and not stay onboard while a storm passes.
On St. Thomas, safe havens are Benner Bay, Mandahl Pond and Flamingo Bay.
St. Croix boaters should head to Salt River.
On St. John, the V.I. National Park has hurricane moorings in Hurricane Hole that were allocated in June. Administrative Support Assistant Esther Francis said no one will be allowed into Hurricane Hole if they didn’t sign up in advance.
Planning spelled out the rules for boaters using safe havens on St. Thomas and St. Croix. Initial entry into the havens will be on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Enforcement officers will be available to assist boaters in maintaining an organized entry and site location for vessels or to resolve difficult situations. Boaters will return to regular moorings once a new bulletin is issued.
Hurricane anchors can remain for the entire hurricane season. Vessels leaving anchors in the safe haven will use one mooring ball attached to hurricane anchor line marked with vessels registration number.
During additional storms, vessels may return to initial location marked by a mooring ball displaying the vessel’s registration number.
Vessels may not anchor in or obstruct navigational channel in Benner Bay or Salt River. No vessels are allowed at Krause Lagoon or its channel on St. Croix. This area is designated a Homeland Security Zone.
Securing vessels to nearby trees will be done only when necessary and by utilizing proper chaffing material on all lines. Lines must be removed immediately after the storm. Communication to boaters will be via press release or V.I. Radio on Marine channel 16.
After the storm, owners of vessels that have sunk or washed ashore must notify Planning with the vessel’s GPS location and an estimated time when the owner will salvage his or her vessel. Vessel owners are responsible for removing wrecked vessels.
After the hurricane season is over, all hurricane anchors and gear must be removed.
The U.S. Coast Guard at 4 p.m. Tuesday declared it was on Port Condition X-Ray. This means all maritime operations including waterfront facility and vessel transits may occur until further notice and are subject to prudent seamanship and safe working practices.
Waterfront facilities should be removing potential flying debris, hazardous materials and pollutants from dockside areas. All oceangoing vessels greater than 200 gross tons should make preparations to leave the port at this time or request in writing from the captain of the port permission to remain in port.
Vessels bound for this port, which are unable to depart 24 hours prior to threatening winds making landfall, are advised to seek an alternate destination.