Tropical Waves Soak Love City

As the third month of the hurricane season arrives, the territory is getting a taste of what may lie ahead as two tropical waves and Tropical Storm Chris blew past the islands over the past two weeks.

Although Tropical Storm Chris passed north of the territory, rainfall accumulation on St. John varied from between two and a half inches to just under two inches.

Chris Goes North
And although we were spared the worst of Chris, we aren’t out of the woods by any means yet. Mid-September is the height of hurricane season and there are already a number of storms lining up across the Atlantic Ocean from the west coast of Africa to the Leeward Islands.

A wave is currently at 40W and was forecast to reach the Eastern Caribbean late Sunday night, August 6 with the strongest winds and squalls to the west of the wave, according to the Caribbean weather Web site caribwx.com.

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“Not much of a break before the next wave passes on Tuesday, August 8, probably having the greatest influence on the Northeastern Caribbean,” according to caribwx.com.

Reduced Predictions
There was good news on the horizon, however, since Univer-sity of Colorado professor and hurricane predictor Dr. William Gary has reduced his predictions from earlier forecasts.

Scientists were calling for above-average activity this season, predicting 17 named tropical storms, nine hurricanes and five major hurricanes — Category Three or higher.

An average season has 9.6 named storms, 5.9 hurricanes and 2.3 major hurricanes, according to the National Weather Service.

On August 1, Dr. Gary reduced that number and now estimates that “2006 will have about seven hurricanes, 15 named storms, and three intense hurricanes,” according to the Tropical Meteorology Project’s Web site.

Earlier Wave Was Worse
Probably the worst of the recent storms was not Tropical Storm Chris, but a tropical wave which blew through the area during the early hours of July 27. That tropical wave, which passed over St. John late Wednesday night and into Thursday morning, July 26 and 27, pounded the island with heavy rain, strong winds and countless close lightning strikes.

Severity Not Predicted
Although the wave was predicted, few forecasters thought the weather would be so severe.

“The tropical wave started interacting with a ridge to the north of us, so it generated some unsettled weather,” said local weather guru and St. John resident George Cline, who broadcasts weather daily on both VHF and HF bands.

Cline, who is also the treasurer of the St. John Amateur Radio Club, broadcasts a local VHF weathernet at 6:40 a.m. every morning for ham radio operators. The weather forecaster then broadcasts the weather on HF for the benefit of sailors throughout the Caribbean — all the way to the Panama Canal.

Winds Hit 57 Knots
The July 27 tropical wave did not look nearly so threatening as it approached the islands, Cline explained.

“Winds blew up to 57 knots in Coral Bay and we had 3.04 inches of rainfall,” he said. “It wasn’t predicted to be so strong. When it came through the Leeward Islands there were a few thunderstorms here and there.”

“It really was not forecast to be quite as ferocious as it turned out to be,” Cline added.

Late Night Start
The storm first entered the area around 9 p.m., but intensified after 10 p.m., according to Cline.

“We started seeing lightning around 9 p.m., out to the east,” he said. “There was a squall line that went through and it gave us a brief shower that moved fast. I looked at the radar around 9 p.m. and there wasn’t any heavy activity out to St. Martin.”

Shortly after 10 p.m., the skies opened and the light show began.

“I would say that after 10 p.m. the storm really grew,” he said. “The front of the wave was moving fast, but the back part stalled over us.”

As most residents across the island can attest, the lightning that struck that night was loud and close-by. For some residents, it was a little too close.

Transformer Hit by Lightning
“I was in my house that night and I guess around 1 a.m. I saw a really bright flash and then heard immediate thunder,” said Maureen Sullivan, owner of Keep Me Posted. “I was walking through the house and didn’t have a flashlight and I could still see. There was an eerie green color outside.”

A bolt of lightning apparently struck a nearby transformer on King Hill Road, which lit the sky a pale green.

“I didn’t actually see the transformer, but I heard it and saw the effects,” Sullivan said. “It was very scary. I think most of St. John was up that night.”

Barometric Pressure Remained High
The wave that kept most of the island from sleeping did not develop into a depression as many believed.

“It was a tropical wave,” said Cline. “It was not a low or a trough. There may have been an upper level trough above it, but the barometric pressure stayed high.”

Barometric pressure drops when a tropical depression forms and that was not the case with this storm, Cline explained.

Although some residents had current throughout the storm, some homes on St. John were without power for more than 24 hours before the V.I. Water and Power Authority restored electricity to all residents.

Dust Clouds Inhibit Storms
Another slow-moving wave swept through the territory over the weekend of July 29 and 30, bringing more rain. The storm also brought a Sahara dust cloud, which affects the formation of storms, at least over the ocean, according to Cline.

“The dust seems to be killing the convection over the water, but over the mountains the air gets chilled down and here come the booms,” he said. “I’m not sure if anyone knows exactly, but dust is known to interfere with the formation of deep convection, which are thunderstorms.”

“The dust seems to inhibit the formation of deep convection until it gets around land,” Cline continued. “Then — in my observation only — the dust doesn’t seem to make that much of a difference, particularly when moisture is coming across from Martinique and other high mountainous places.”