Tropical Storm Fiona heads for Puerto Rico and approaches hurricane size

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The tropical wave named Fiona could turn into a hurricane on Sunday as it crosses Puerto Rico, an island that has been unlucky with tropical systems in recent years. Tropical Storm Fiona continued to gain strength on Saturday evening as it moved through the British and US Virgin Islands and headed towards Puerto Rico.

Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 60 mph as it tracked toward Puerto Rico, which is not far from Category 1 hurricane status.

The National Hurricane Center said Saturday evening that “hurricane-like conditions are expected in parts of Puerto Rico on Sunday” as the storm moves across the island.

“Tropical storm conditions are now spreading to the United States and the British Virgin Islands and will spread to Puerto Rico tonight,” the NHC said in its 11 p.m. ET Saturday update. The statement went on to say that Fiona will continue a westward journey and pass through the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Sunday.

A couple walk on a road covered in debris as Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico in Fajardo, September 20, 2017. Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, hitting U.S. territory after already killing at least two people in its path across the Caribbean. Tropical Storm Fiona is expected to become a Category 1 hurricane when it passes through Puerto Rico on Sunday, September 18, 2022.
Photo by RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images

Although the storm has followed a predominantly westerly track since forming in the Atlantic, hurricane models predict that it will likely take a northerly turn into the Atlantic once it passes Hispaniola, then take a northeasterly trajectory through Bermuda, then possibly crash into the sea.

The National Weather Service predicts that Fiona will reach Category 1 hurricane status by Sunday evening as it crosses the western part of Puerto Rico, possibly even reaching Category 2 status over the Dominican Republic. .

As storms move over the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico, they generally become more powerful. Once they reach wind speeds of 74 mph, that’s when it becomes a Category 1 hurricane. It becomes a Category 2 hurricane at 96 mph.

Even if they don’t reach winds strong enough to become hurricanes, these storms can still dump rain that could cause life-threatening flooding, which could happen on the islands.

The NHC said “heavy rain from Fiona will continue to spread westward” over the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico from Saturday through Sunday, the Dominican Republic on Sunday and the Turks and Caicos Islands Monday evening.

“These amounts of rain are expected to produce flash flooding and life-threatening urban flooding, as well as mudslides on higher ground, especially in parts of Puerto Rico and eastern Dominican Republic.”

The storm’s track beyond the islands in the southeastern United States is still quite uncertain. Some weather models show the storm heading towards Florida or the Carolinas, but most cause it to spin around and just become a rather nasty sea storm in the Atlantic, far from land.

Puerto Rico is still trying to physically and mentally recover from Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island in 2017 as a Category 5 storm. Most of the island lost power, wiping out the most electrical networks and caused physical erosion of the country’s coastline.

Maria’s damage was estimated at $91.6 billion, making it the third costliest hurricane on record.

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