Sunday November 18, 2018
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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
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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)

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Rohingyas Repatriation to Myanmar Scrapped by Bangladesh

Negotiations for repatriation have been in the works for months.

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An elderly Rohingya refugee holds a placard during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, in Bangladesh.VOA

Bangladesh’s plans to begin repatriating Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar Thursday were scrapped because officials were unable to find anyone who wanted to return to the country that has been accused of driving out hundreds of thousands in a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

The refugees “are not willing to go back now,” Refugee Commissioner Abul Kalam told The Associated Press. He said officials “can’t force them to go” but will continue to try to “motivate them so it happens.”

Some people on the government’s repatriation list disappeared into the sprawling refugee camps to avoid being sent home, while others joined a large demonstration against the plan.

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Workers build a Rohingya repatriation center in Gunndum near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. VOA

UN urged a halt to repatriation

More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh from western Myanmar’s Rakhine state since August 2017 to escape killings and destruction of their villages by the military and Buddhist vigilantes that have drawn widespread condemnation of Myanmar.

The United Nations, whose human rights officials had urged Bangladesh to halt the repatriation process even as its refugee agency workers helped to facilitate it, welcomed Thursday’s development.

Firas Al-Khateeb, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Cox’s Bazar, said it was unclear when the process might begin again.

“We want their repatriation, but it has to be voluntary, safe and smooth,” he said.

Bangladesh officials declined to say whether another attempt at repatriation would be made Friday.

Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood Ali told reporters in Dhaka late Thursday that “there is no question of forcible repatriation. We gave them shelter, so why should we send them back forcibly?”

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Rohingya refugee children shout slogans during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

Pleading with Rohingya

At the Unchiprang refugee camp, a Bangladeshi refugee official implored the Rohingya on Thursday to return to their country over a loudspeaker.

“We have arranged everything for you, we have six buses here, we have trucks, we have food. We want to offer everything to you. If you agree to go, we’ll take you to the border, to the transit camp,” he said.

“We won’t go!” hundreds of voices, including children’s, chanted in reply.

Some refugees on the repatriation lists, which authorities say were drawn up with assistance from the UNHCR, said they don’t want to go back.

‘I don’t want to go back’

At the Jamtoli refugee camp, one of the sprawling refugee settlements near the city of Cox’s Bazar, 25-year-old Setara said she and her two children, age 4 and 7, were on a repatriation list, but her parents were not. She said she had never asked to return to Myanmar, and that she had sent her children to a school run by aid workers Thursday morning as usual.

“They killed my husband; now I live here with my parents,” said Setara, who only gave one name. “I don’t want to go back.”

She said that other refugees on the repatriation list had fled to other camps, hoping to disappear amid the crowded lanes of refugees, aid workers and Bangladeshi soldiers, which on Thursday were bustling with commerce and other activity.

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Rohingya refugees shout slogans during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

Plan to return 150 a day

Bangladesh had planned to send an initial group of 2,251 back from mid-November at a rate of 150 per day.

Myanmar officials, speaking late Thursday in the capital, Naypyitaw, said they were ready to receive the refugees. Despite those assurances, human rights activists said conditions were not yet safe for the Rohingya to go back.

The exodus began after Myanmar security forces launched a brutal crackdown following attacks by an insurgent group on guard posts. The scale, organization and ferocity of the crackdown led the U.N. and several governments to accuse Myanmar of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Most people in Buddhist-majority Myanmar do not accept that the Rohingya Muslims are a native ethnic group, viewing them as “Bengalis” who entered illegally from Bangladesh, even though generations of Rohingya have lived in Myanmar. Nearly all have been denied citizenship since 1982, as well as access to education and hospitals.

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Rohingya refugees cross floodwaters at Thangkhali refugee camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district. VOA

Refugee camps bleak

The refugees survived the ransacking of villages, rapes and killings in Myanmar, but for many, life in Bangladesh’s squalid refugee camps has been bleak.

The refugees who’ve arrived in the last year joined a wave of 250,000 Rohingya Muslims who escaped forced labor, religious persecution and violent attacks from Buddhist mobs in Myanmar during the early 1990s.

Access to education and employment has been far from assured.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who hopes to retain power in December elections, has repeatedly complained that hosting more than a million Rohingya is taxing local resources.

Negotiations for repatriation have been in the works for months, but plans last January to begin sending refugees back were called off amid concerns among aid workers and Rohingya that their return would be met with violence.

Foreign leaders, including U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, criticized Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi this week on the sidelines of a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Singapore for her handling of the Rohingya crisis.

Also Read: Rohingya Muslims Remain Fearful Due To Forceful Repatriation

But on Thursday, Pence said that U.S. officials were “encouraged to hear that” the repatriation process would begin.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country would continue working with international partners including the U.N. “to ensure that the Rohingya themselves are part of any decisions on their future.” (VOA)