Tropical Storm Dorian passed through the Windward Islands of Barbados, St. Lucia and Martinique in the past couple of days. The storm dumped heavy rain, knocked out power and blew down trees. A still uncertain long-term track has the storm near Florida this coming weekend, but right now it’s moving over the open waters of the eastern Caribbean Sea.
Along the way, people in Puerto Rico are paying close attention. Dorian is a concern shared by many across the U.S. territory, where some 30,000 homes still have blue tarps as roofs and where the 3.2 million people who live there depend on a shaky power grid that Hurricane Maria destroyed almost two years ago. Although Dorian’s strength will pale in comparison to Maria’s, Puerto Rico remains prone to power outages even in the slightest of rain storms.
Maria’s 155-mph winds ripped the second floor off construction worker Jorge Ortiz’s home. He was forced to rebuild everything himself and finished just three months ago. He told the Washington Post earlier today he received no assistance from the local or federal government.
“They told me I didn’t qualify because it was a total loss,” said Ortiz, shaking his head as he added that he was wary about Dorian. “I’m worried that despite all this sacrifice, I’ll lose it again.”
As of 5:00 p.m. EDT today, August 27, Dorian was centered about 330 miles southeast of Ponce, Puerto Rico, located on the southern coast of the island. Maximum sustained winds were clocked at 50 mph, and Dorian is considered a small storm. Tropical storm force winds extend only 45 miles away from the eye.
However, meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center (NHC) expect Dorian to strengthen gradually during the next 48 hours, and the storm could be near Category 1 hurricane strength when it moves close to Puerto Rico on Wednesday, August 28. The NHC has issued a Tropical Storm Warning and a Hurricane Watch for Puerto Rico.
Based on the latest forecast track from the NHC and FreightWaves SONAR, the southern coast of Puerto Rico would suffer the most damage compared to the rest of the island because counterclockwise wind flow around the storm would be coming off the Caribbean Sea toward land.
“The biggest problem will be the rain,” said Roberto García, a forecaster with the National Meteorological Service in Puerto Rico.
Rainfall amounts of four to six inches are possible in parts of Puerto Rico, with pockets of up to eight inches possible. This may cause life-threatening flash floods, as well as mudslides/landslides. Winds may be less of an issue, but shouldn’t be ignored. They could knock down trees, power lines and cell towers in spots, leaving people without electricity or unable to call for help. Also, swells and storm surge could cause life-threatening surf and rip currents along the shore and just offshore.
Already some Puerto Rican grocery stores have run out of bottled water as people rushed to buy other supplies, including generators, and filled their cars with gasoline. The island’s transportation secretary acknowledged that crews are still rebuilding roads damaged or blocked by Hurricane Maria. He said more than 1,000 are still blocked by that storm’s landslides.
Gov. Wanda Vázquez signed an executive order on Monday declaring a state of emergency. She urged those living under a tarp to stay in one of the island’s 360 shelters if needed. Housing Secretary Fernando Gil said some 9,000 to 13,000 homes with blue-tarp roofs are located in the region that may be the most vulnerable to Dorian.
Vázquez said this time the island’s Electric Power Authority has a vast inventory of equipment to cope with storm damage – $141 million worth compared with $22 million at the time Maria hit. This includes more than 23,000 poles, 120,000 lights and 7,400 transformers. She said the power company also has signed 33 agreements with power companies on the U.S. mainland in case more help is needed after Dorian passes.
Dorian will likely cause moderate to major impacts on local business and supply chains in Puerto Rico. Minor, short-term disruptions to shipping routes in the Caribbean are possible for the remainder of the week, and operations may be impacted at a few oil facilities in the region.
After passing Puerto Rico, Dorian may hit portions of the Dominican Republic on Wednesday night and early Thursday, followed by the Bahamas and Florida’s Atlantic coast this weekend. The forecast track and intensity are likely to change a bit by the time the storm possibly reaches the U.S. mainland. It’s too early to determine what level of impact Dorian may have on the continental U.S., so watch for updates from FreightWaves on our website and social media accounts.