Tropical Storm Rafael was much ado about nothing, with residents across the territory reporting either no rain or only a tiny bit as the storm made a last-minute change in track to the east. It’s not totally over, however.
“You will see a few more outer bands coming over today,” meteorologist Brian Seeley at the National Weather Service in San Juan said at 7:30 a.m. Sunday.
It will be “sort of breezy,” with isolated gusts of up to 30 to 35 mph as the rain bands move through. Seeley said there’s the potential for one to three inches of rain to fall throughout Sunday. The territory remains on a flash flood watch until 6 p.m. And Seeley said there will be a “fair amount” of cloudiness.
The tropical storm warning was lifted at the 5 a.m. update.
However, just because the territory got off this time, don’t automatically assume that will be the case the next time a storm heads this way. The forecast gets harder when it’s one like Rafael that can’t seem to make up its mind about strength and track.
While hurricane forecasts have improved greatly, Seeley said there tends to be a lot of wobbles when storms are trying to organize.
“It’s frustrating because our job is to protect the lives and property of the people of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands,” Seeley said.
In the case of Rafael, Seeley said wind shear caused the storm’s center to reform Saturday afternoon further to the east and the storm started moving due north. This meant the rain and wind were on the eastern side of the storm and away from the Virgin Islands. The wind was still blowing at 50 mph and heavy rain was falling, but it wasn’t happening over the territory as forecasters had thought it would earlier Saturday.
“There was not a lot of wind and rain on the west side of the circulation,” Seeley said.
Well organized storms like 1989’s Hurricane Hugo and 1995’s Hurricane Marilyn are much easier to predict, but Seeley pointed out that in 2008 Hurricane Omar wasn’t initially going to be a big problem.
“Omar rapidly intensified and really creamed St. Croix,” he said.
Seeley said that hurricane season doesn’t officially end until Nov. 30. The territory has seen storms in November, including 1999’s Lenny that came from a westerly direction.
He said that while it’s easy for people to get complacent when situations like the one with Rafael occur, it’s important to keep awareness up.
At around 8 a.m. Sunday the U.S. Coast Guard announced that port conditions were open to incoming and outgoing vessels. Saturday, it had prohibited vessels from entering the territory’s ports.
As of the 8 a.m. Sunday advisory from the National Hurricane Center, Rafael’s center was 100 miles north-northwest of St. Maarten. The center was located at 19.5 degrees north latitude and 63.8 degrees west longitude. It’s moving north-northwest at 12 mph.
The winds remain at 50 mph.