Wednesday January 16, 2019
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Tropical Storm Florence: What to Expect?

The second week of September is the peak of hurricane season, so the flurry of activity is no surprise to forecasters.

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Q&A: With Severe Storms Approaching US, What to Expect?. Flickr

Emergency officials are urging residents to prepare for severe storms that are forecast to hit the East Coast and Hawaii over the next week at what is the peak of this year’s hurricane season.

Coming in from the Atlantic Ocean, Tropical Storm Florence is expected to make landfall Thursday as a level 3 hurricane or greater, steered by winds that could guide it as far south as Florida or as far north as New England.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Olivia is forecast to hit the Hawaiian Islands as a tropical storm on Wednesday, bringing heavy rains just two weeks after Hurricane Lane caused major flooding.

A look at what forecasters are predicting for those storms and the rest of the season:

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Satellite picture of a hurricane, Pixabay

What do we know about the storms right now?

Tropical Storm Florence was gathering strength Saturday, with the National Hurricane Center expecting it to become a hurricane overnight. Five days out from expected landfall, there’s still wide uncertainty about where it will hit and at what intensity, but the latest models show that it’s most likely to make landfall in the southeast U.S., between northern Florida and North Carolina.

Still, there’s a chance it could be pushed farther north and strike along the mid-Atlantic or New England coast, threatening to make landfall between Virginia and Massachusetts. No matter where it lands, there’s a chance it could stall out and pummel the coasts for days.

The latest models on Saturday show that it’s becoming less likely the storm will veer north and miss the mainland U.S. entirely. At minimum, residents along the East Coast are being told to expect heavy rainfall and storm surges, with the possibility of heavy winds.

Forecasters are also keeping an eye on two storms gathering behind Florence. Tropical Storm Helene was expected to reach the Cabo Verde islands on Saturday but is predicted to miss the mainland U.S. A tropical depression that was upgraded to Tropical Storm Isaac on Saturday is headed toward the Caribbean and brings a greater chance of curving north toward Puerto Rico and the mainland, potentially as a hurricane.

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In this image provided by NOAA, Tropical Storm Gordon approaches the United States. VOA

It’s still uncertain whether Hurricane Olivia will make landfall in the Hawaiian Islands, but at minimum meteorologists believe it will come very close and deliver a new round of rainfall.

The National Weather Service has also issued a typhoon watch in the U.S. territory of Guam, where Tropical Storm Mangkhut is approaching from the east and is expected to bring damaging winds by Monday evening.

When will we have a better idea of whether they pose a threat?

Each day brings a clearer picture of the risks posed by the storms. Jeff Masters, co-founder of the Weather Underground service, says airplanes gathering weather information began flying into Florence on Saturday, which should provide data that will lead to a major boost in the reliability of models on Sunday.

Isaac’s route is still wildly uncertain and will be for days. Forecasters are more confident that Olivia will affect Hawaii, with its path and intensity sharpening in the next few days.

What factors give Florence a chance of being a particulary strong hurricane?

By the time it reaches the East Coast, Florence could strengthen into a major hurricane. Winds higher up in Florence have been weakening, giving it time to gather itself and gain strength over the ocean, experts say. And it’s also approaching water where the temperature is slightly warmer than average, providing heat that the storm can convert into stronger winds.

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Hurricane Sandy, 2012 the next morning. Flickr

How should people in areas vulnerable to hurricanes stay prepared?

Residents in evacuation zones are urged to have a plan to flee if the order comes. Others should have at least a week’s supply of food, water and medication for their families and their pets.

Brian McNoldy, a senior researcher at the University of Miami’s school of marine and atmospheric science, says residents who stick it out should have gas cans to fuel their cars and power generators, and should take out some cash in case electronic payment systems are down after the storms pass.

To avoid a headache down the line, residents are also encouraged to keep insurance documents in a safe place ahead of time.

North Carolina’s governor already issued a state of emergency on Friday as the storm advanced, while officials in other coastal states say they’re monitoring forecasts.

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Residents work clearing a house destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti, October 5, 2016.(VOA)

What expectations do forecasters have for the rest of the hurricane season?

The second week of September is the peak of hurricane season, so the flurry of activity is no surprise to forecasters. After the current round of storms, though, long-range models suggest a lull for several weeks.

Also Read: Sports Betting Now Legal in USA

Masters said there’s a chance for another active period by mid-October, which would mark the end of the busiest stretch of the season.

“I don’t think we’re quite done yet,” he said, “but certainly as far as September goes, this is the big week.” (VOA)

Next Story

The Government Shutdown in Washington D.C

At a recent event to sign the LOVE act into law, Bowser – flanked by grateful newlyweds – said, “Just so my team knows, we’re probably going to want to keep that power.”

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District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser, seated, holds the LOVE Act she signed, Jan. 11, 2019. VOA

No city experiences a shutdown quite like Washington.

Besides the economic impact, a shutdown warps the nation’s capital on a cultural, recreational and logistical level — touching everybody from garbage collectors to young parents, prospective newlyweds to aspiring Eagle Scouts.

The current partial shutdown , now in a record fourth week, has also provided a quiet boon for Mayor Muriel Bowser’s government, which rushed into the void to claim unprecedented new powers while making a public show of literally cleaning up the federal government’s mess.

The economic situation is, of course, brutal. Recent surveys estimate that the federal government directly employs more than 364,000 people in the greater Washington area including northern Virginia and southern Maryland. The District of Columbia alone — population 700,000 — contains more than 102,000 jobs in agencies that are now without appropriations funding.

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People rally to call for an end to the partial government shutdown in Detroit, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. VOA

Deputy City Administrator Kevin Donahue made the analogy to the main plant shutting down in a factory town — with the subsequent knock-on effect through the service industries like restaurants, food trucks, entertainment and taxis.

“What keeps us up at night is not the work we know we have to do in weeks one and two,” Donahue said. It’s the unpredictable impacts of weeks four and five and onward, he said, with the potential for mass restaurant closures or residents missing payments on rent, mortgages, car loans or school fees.

Most immediately, the shutdown created a logistical and public health problem. The district is riddled with National Park Service land, ranging from the National Mall to urban green spaces like Dupont Circle and dozens of neighborhood parks.

Washington sanitation crews now empty the trash bins at 122 separate NPS sites — three times a day in the case of the bins at the National Mall. It’s costing at least $54,000 per week in overtime, and Donahue said there’s a handshake agreement dating back to previous shutdowns that Washington will be compensated when the government reopens. The NPS recently announced it would tap into other funds to resume its own trash pickup at some — but not all — of the Washington sites.

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A U.S. Internal Revenue Services employee holds signs in front of the federal building at a rally against the U.S. federal government shutdown, in Ogden, Utah, Jan. 10, 2019. VOA

“There’s a past practice of reimbursement,” Donahue said. “But they don’t have a legal obligation to compensate us.”

Given Washington’s tortured relationship with the federal government, which can essentially alter or block any local law, city officials have seemingly relished the chance to highlight the ironies of the moment. They frequently claim they are treated by Congress as if they can’t handle their own affairs; now they’re taking over and covering for a dysfunctional central government.

“When the federal government shuts down, we step up,” Bowser said during a Jan. 4 news conference with Washington’s nonvoting congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, to announce a renewed push this year for district statehood.

The shutdown cuts a cultural swath through the lives of city residents. The entire Smithsonian network of museums, including the zoo , closed their doors about a week into the shutdown, and quasi-federal entities like the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts have severely cut back their hours.

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Air passengers heading to their departure gates enter TSA precheck before going through security screening at Orlando International Airport, June 21, 2018, in Orlando, Fla. (VOA)

On a recent weekend, the usual Saturday morning kids’ drumming workshop at the BloomBars cultural center in Columbia Heights drew nearly triple the usual crowd, with parents and strollers lined halfway up the block in the rain. The reason: desperate parents searching for something to occupy their kids in a city where more than a dozen free museums and the zoo have been shuttered.

“It happens every time,” laughed BloomBars founder John Chambers, who recalls an identical spike during the 16-day 2013 shutdown. “But this time it feels like there’s more of a panic among people because (this shutdown) genuinely seems open-ended.”

The district is littered with shutdown specials — offering furloughed federal employees discounts on everything from food and drink to live theater and medical marijuana .

Examples of unexpected shutdown fallout are all around. High school senior Yosias Zelalem was all set to secure his Eagle Scout rank with a project to repair park benches along the Mount Vernon Trail. But his liaison at the NPS has been furloughed and the project is frozen.

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Tourists arrive to visit the U.S. Capitol on a rainy morning in Washington, Dec. 28, 2018, during a partial government shutdown.. VOA

“I didn’t really think about it until New Year’s came and went,” said Zelalem, who needs to complete the project before he turns 18 on March 27. “I honestly didn’t expect it to go on this long. Now everybody’s talking like this could go for months.”

One of the more random side-effects of shutdown: the closure of the marriage bureau.

Bowser told The Associated Press that even she was surprised to learn that local couples couldn’t get their marriage licenses because Congress funds the local court system. Divorce proceedings, however, were unaffected.

Also Read: Democrats in Congress Squarely Responsible for the Shutdown: Donald Trump

Bowser quickly tapped allies on the Council of the District of Columbia to pass emergency legislation called the Let Our Vows Endure (LOVE) act, which granted her administration the right to issue marriage licenses. In addition to an enjoyable public victory that drew national attention, Bowser’s administration just stepped into the federal void to claim a whole new power ahead of an impending district statehood push.

At a recent event to sign the LOVE act into law, Bowser – flanked by grateful newlyweds – said, “Just so my team knows, we’re probably going to want to keep that power.”

Nobody laughed and she didn’t seem to be joking. (VOA)