Another Bomb Cyclone to Push Impactful Swells to the Caribbean

7 03 2020

Dale C. S. Destin|

Another bomb cyclone is expected to cause another episode of  large and damaging swells across much of the Caribbean Basin. The impactful swells will start to reach the shorelines of the Basin this Sunday. These swells are forecast to reach a few metres and break at higher heights on coastlines.

Visualization of northerly swells forecast to come to the Caribbean from the bomb cyclone

Swells will rise to at least 3 metres (at least 10 feet) across most of the Atlantic waters of the islands. These swells will produce even higher surfs or breaking waves. Surfs could be as much as twice the height of the incoming swells, depending on the bathymetry/topography of the near shore seafloor. The swells and surfs are expected to cause beach closures, as swimming conditions will become quite hazardous. Other impacts include:

  • major beach erosion;
  • flooding of some low-lying coastal roads;
  • disruptions to marine recreation and businesses;
  • disruptions to potable water from desalination;
  • damage to coral reefs and
  • financial losses.

Advisories and warnings will be required for much of the upcoming week. Please be guided by the bulletins coming out of your national weather services.

The event will be cause by an average extratropical cyclone transitioning to a bomb cyclone – a drop of 24 millibars/hectopascals or more in 24 hours or less. This will result in the system developing gale-force or tropical-storm-force winds that will push large waves to the Caribbean.

8 pm local time Friday, 6 March, 2020: Bomb cyclone with centre marked by the X near the red L, just off the coast of New York
Visualization of Bomb Cyclone 6 am UTC Saturday or 2 am local time Saturday, 7 March, 2020: Pressure – shaded areas, isobars – circular fixed lines (1012, 1008, 1004 etc.) and wind direction – lines circling inwards toward the centre of the bomb cyclone
Visualization of Bomb Cyclone 6 am UTC Saturday or 2 am local time Saturday, 7 March, 2020: Wind speed – shaded areas, wind direction – lines circling inwards toward the centre of the bomb cyclone

The cyclone will remain very far away from the area – thousands of miles; however, it will have a significant impact on the region, by way of swells transforming into high surfs on our shores. Associated with these surfs are potentially very powerful and life-threatening rip currents.

The first set of these swells will reach the Bahamas on Sunday; the northeast Caribbean, including Antigua and Barbuda, by Monday and the rest of the Eastern Caribbean by Tuesday. The event will likely last three days from its start time. So, for the northeast Caribbean, its Monday through Thursday.

As usual, the impacts on shorelines will not be the uniformed. The impacts will depend on the depth and the natural shelter of the coastal waters. Northern islands with moderately sloping, shallow, northern and or north-facing shorelines are expected to see the highest swells and surfs, and hence; the greatest impacts.

This event is not expected to be worse than the last notable one which took place in January 2020. Notwithstanding, it will not be your “garden variety” event.

The event will also be felt along the East Coast of the United States. The same powerful cyclone will also cause extreme weather across Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern Europe next week.

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February 2020 to be Among the Wettest on Record

17 02 2020

Dale C. S. Destin

This February is on track to becoming one of the wettest on record for Antigua. Thus far, it is the wettest February, at the V. C. Bird International Airport (VCBIA) since 2005 and the wettest for Antigua since 2004.

It has been the wettest first two weeks of February, at the VCBIA, since 2002. The rainfall total of 55 mm (2.17 in), at the end of February 14, at the Airport, is well above normal – in the top 10 percentile on record dating back to 1962. It is more than twice the average – 25.4 mm (1.0 in), for the same period and the fourth wettest on record. Only three other times February 1-14 has been wetter, at VCBIA: 1997 – 66 mm (2.60 in), 1982 – 59.7 mm (2.35 in) and 2002 – 56.8 mm (2.24 in).

Heavy rainfall days (days with 10 mm – 0.40 in, or more) are fairly rare for February, at the Airport. There was none since 2009; however, already for this Feberuary, there have been three recorded. This ties with 2005, 1991, 1982, 1981 and 1976 February for the most number of heavy rainfall days, at VCBIA. The three heavy rainfall days tie with those of February 2005, 1991, 1982, 1981 and 1976. This record will likely be broken by the end of the month.

There is no daily breakdown of the island-average rainfall; however, based on the fact that the current island-average total of 59.9 mm (2.36 in) is already the most since 2004, and the average for the month is 55.9 mm (2.20 in), it is highly likely that the rainfall for the first two weeks of February was also well above normal for the island.

The cause of our wetter than usual February weather is the positive North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) index. The NAO is a large-scale seesaw in atmospheric pressure between the subtropical (Atlantic) high and the polar low.

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The positive NAO index occurs when the subtropical high is higher (stronger) than usual and the polar low is deeper (lower) than usual. When this happens, it causes the winds across the area to be higher than usual (fresh to strong), which in turn destabilises the lower atmosphere by way of mixing and convergence – resulting in above normal rainfall for Antigua and likely other nearby islands.

When the NAO is above normal, the mean rainfall for Antigua for February is 62.7 mm (2.47 in) plus or minus 11.4 mm (0.45 in). These numbers are based on a 95% confidence interval and a probability value (p-value) of 0.009.

A positive NAO index also has implications for other places. For example, the United Kingdom, Ireland and northern Europe get more and stronger winter storms when the NAO index is positive, which have been happening. Thus far, there have been four named winter storms to significantly impact the area, the last being Storm Dennis.

The NAO index is forecast to remain above normal; hence, wetter than usual conditions are expected to continue. Unfortunately, the NAO index is not predictable beyond two weeks; thus, only short-range forecasting can be done using it as a predictor. Also, for some other months, a positive index is associated with below normal rainfall.

The wettest February for the VCBIA and Antigua, on record dating back to 1928, is 1982 with 110.5 mm (4.35 in) and 130.8 mm (5.15 in) respectively. The wettest February 1-14 at the VCBIA is 1997 with 66 mm (2.60 in).  

The average rainfall totals for February for the VCBIA and Antigua are 44.9 mm (1.77 in) and 55.9 mm (2.20 in) respectively. This February could be among the top three wettest on record.

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Climate Change and Tropical Cyclone Forward Speed

26 01 2020

Dale C.S. Destin|

Many have made tropical cyclones (hurricanes, tropical storms and tropical depressions) the posterchild for climate change with respect to how they are or may be responding to a warming climate. It is a hot topic of debate that researchers are continuously investigating for answers. One of the many questions been asked is, “Are global tropical cyclones moving slower in a warning climate?”  

The track of Hurricane Irma – 2017

A recent research letter, in the Institute of Physics (IOP) Publishing, by Kelvin T.F. Chan, of the School of Atmospheric Sciences, and Guangdong Province Key Laboratory for Climate and Natural Disaster Studies, Sun Yat-sen University, Zhuhai, People’s Republic of China, weighed in, quite forcefully and persuasively, on the above question.

Time series of annual-mean global tropical-cyclone translation speed and their linear trends in periods 1949–2016 (blue) and 1970–2016 (orange).

According to Chan, the short answer to the question is no. Chan successfully show that, with the use of reliable data from 1970 to 2016, there is no significant change in the forward speed of tropical cyclones, notwithstanding the pronounced warning of the globe seen over the last half-century.

Chan’s finding virtually contradicts a 2018 paper present by James P. Kossin of the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, Center for Weather and Climate, Madison, WI, USA. Kossin found that there was a 10% slowdown in global tropical-cyclone translation (forward) speed over the past 68 years – 1949 to 2016. His implication was that this was related to anthropogenic climate change.

The IOP letter, by Chan, successfully shows that the findings of Kossin was based on the use of widely accepted spurious data obtained prior to the satellite era – pre 1966. Unanimously accepted, more accurate data since the satellite era – 1970 to 2016, show no significant slowdown of tropical cyclones. Understandably, prior to weather satellites in 1966, accurately tracking tropical cyclones was very difficult to impossible; hence, translation speed data before then are highly unreliable.

This finding of Chan is consistent with the findings of Knutson et al, in a very comprehensive study on the entire subject of climate change and tropical cyclones. According to Knutson, the results for the models “indicate no significant changes, and only 2 of the 10 individual… model projections show a significant change (increase).” He concluded that there was no clear consistent trend in the forward speed of tropical cyclones.

The question of how climate change is or may impact the forward speed of tropical cyclones is very important from a adoptation standpoint. A slower moving tropical cyclone has the potential for more destruction and vice versa. Naturally, the longer a tropical cyclone hangs around a particular populated area, the more the destruction is likely to be via wind, flooding rainfall and storm-surge.

Intuitively, it would be consistent to think that since a warning climate is slowing down the circulation of the tropics, it is also slowing down tropical cyclones, embedded its circulation. However, this is clearly not happening, certainly not based on the data since 1970 to 2016.

Tropical cyclones may be the posterchild for climate change; however, there is no evidence to support any changes in tropical cyclones forward speed, due to the changing climate being forced by humans.  

More broadly, there exist no evidence that there have been any changes in tropical cyclones, due to anthropogenic climate change. However, that is not to say that climate change won’t have an impact on tropical cyclones in the future.  

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Bomb Cyclone to Push Damaging Swells Across the Caribbean

16 01 2020

Dale C.S Destin|

The Caribbean Basin is about to see another round of large and damaging swells reaching its shorelines starting Saturday, from a bomb cyclone. Swells are forecast to exceed 3.5 metres (12 feet) and break at higher heights, as surfs, on coastlines. This is likely to be the biggest swell event since Swellmageddon of March 2018.

Animation of bomb cyclone, east of Canada, with pressure pattern, wind speeds and directions, as forecast by the Global Forecasting System (GFS) Model. Time in UTC

The event will be kicked off by a relatively inconspicuous low-pressure system (LPS), currently over the northeast United States. The LPS will go through explosive development (bombogenesis) over the next 24 hours and become a ginormous and powerful bomb cyclone (extratropical cyclone) over the northwest North Atlantic, with hurricane-force winds.

Although this system will form over 3220 km (2000 miles) away, it will have a significant impact on the region, through its strong winds pushing unusually high waves to our shores. The first set of these swells will reach the Bahamas on Saturday; the northeast Caribbean, including Antigua and Barbuda, on Sunday and the Guianas on Monday. The event will likely last three days from its start time. So, for the northeast Caribbean, its Sunday through Tuesday.

Animation of swells forecast to move across the region from the bomb cyclone, as predicted by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) wave model (WAM). Time in UTC.

Swells will rise to to in excess of 3.5 metres across most of the Atlantic waters of the islands. There swells will produce even higher surfs or breaking waves. These surfs could be as much as twice the height of the incoming swells, depending on the bathymetry/topography of the near shore seafloor. This is expected to cause beach closures, as swimming conditions will become quite hazardous. Other impacts include:

  • major beach erosion;
  • flooding of some low-lying coastal roads;
  • disruptions to marine recreation and businesses;
  • disruptions to potable water from desalination;
  • damage to coral reefs and
  • Financial losses.

Advisories and warnings will be required for the weekend and or the first half of next week. The event will also be felt along the East Coast of the United States, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, the United Kingdom and Norway. Rowers of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge will also be negatively impacted, exponentially increasing the challenge of an already very challenging race.

High surf warnings or advisories will be required for coastal areas for much of the Caribbean this weekend and into the middle of next week

The impact on shorelines will not be the same everywhere. Depending on the depth and the natural shelter of the coastal waters, the impact will be different. Moderately sloping, shallow, north and or north-facing shorelines are expected to see the highest swells and surfs.

The bomb cyclone will go from a central pressure of 1004 hectopascals (hpa) (which is the same in millibars) to around 968 hpa in 24 hours and to a minimum of 955 hpa in 48 hours, just east of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. This represents an explosive drop of 59 hpa – more than one hpa per hour; thus, meeting the definition of a bomb cyclone – a drop in pressure of an extratropical cyclone of at least 24 hpa in 24 hours or less.

By Saturday, this weather bomb will be packing Category 1, hurricane force winds – 119 to 153 km/h (74 to 95 mph). These are the winds that will, in turn, generate large waves that will traverse the Atlantic and pound the shorelines of the Caribbean, inundating some low-lying coastal areas.

Of course, the hurricane force winds do not even have the remotest of chance of reaching the Islands; however, some of the wind energy, transferred into the seas will reach us in the form of ocean waves – ground swells. As you may know, waves do not transport water; they transport energy, which can de destructive when they break on shorelines.

Animation of wind directions and speeds forecast to impact the region, as predicted by the ECMWF Integrated Forecasting System (IFS) Model. Time in UTC.

Talking about winds, they are expected to surge – getting to the general range of 25 to 45 (16 to 28 mph), across the region again late Saturday and likely continue into Monday. Storm-force gusts to near 65 km/h (40 mph) are expected, especially in showers. Thus, both high wind advisories and small craft warnings are highly possible late Saturday through Monday morning.

Our (Caribbean) weather will also become wet again over the weekend and into midweek. There is a very high chance of occasional brief showers, as the high winds will destabilise the atmosphere via mixing and low-level convergence.

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Strong Howling Winds to Continue to Impact the Caribbean

11 01 2020

Dale C.S. Destin, updated January 12, 2020 |

Strong howling winds are expected to continue across much of the Caribbean Basin through Tuesday. These huffing and puffing, big bad wolf winds are causing notable socio-economic impacts to the islands.

As the winds go up, so also do the seas; hence, hazardous seas have engulfed the region – from the Bahamas to the Guyanas, including the Caribbean Sea.

The winds have risen to the range of 29 to 52 km/h or (18 to 32 mph) over land and are expected to persist until Tuesday. Further, gusts as high as 80 km/h (50 mph) are possible for some areas. Over the Caribbean Sea, the winds are forecast to be stronger than some places over land. One such area is between Jamaica and Columbia, where sustained winds – 70 km/h (44 mph), are forecast. With respect to land, the highest sustained winds are forecast for the Eastern Caribbean.

The blustery winds will cause the seas to remain very angry with significant wave heights of 2.5 to over 4 metres (8 to 14 feet) and occasionally reaching over 5 metres (18 feet). There is an area between Jamaica and Columbia where the significant wave heights are predicted to be over 5 metres (18 feet), occasionally reaching 7 metres (23 feet).

Over the past 24 hours, above normal swells, from distant strong winds, have added to the hazards across the area. So, not only there are concerns for high winds and hazardous marine conditions in open waters, there is now also a concern for the impact of life-threatening surfs (breaking waves) along, mainly northern and north-facing shorelines; hence, a high surf advisory has or will be required for most islands. Already, a high surf advisory is in effect for much of the Caribbean.

Beachgoers should be extremely cautious; bathe only where lifeguards are present or the sheltered, less affected beaches, mainly to the south. See the bulletins from your national weater service for detail and specific guidance for you local.

Such conditions are very conducive fo rip currents – powerful channels of water flowing quickly away from shore, which occur most often at low spots or breaks in the sandbar and near structures such as groins, jetties and piers. If caught in a rip current, relax and float. Don`t swim against the current. If able, swim in a direction following the shoreline. If unable to escape, face the shore and call or wave for help.

As a result of the weather, more so the strong winds, three cruise ships had to abort berthing at the St. John’s Harbour in Antigua. These, I am informed, were The Anthem of the Seas, Norwegian Dawn and Crown Princess. Ferry service between Antigua and Montserrat has been cancelled until Thursday. The have also been aborted attempts by LIAT to land in Dominica. There are also reports of downed banana and other trees in the Windward Islands and Trinidad and Tobago, and there have been power outage in the British Virgin Islands and Trinidad and Tobago attributed to the strong winds.

Thus far, the highest winds (10-minute sustained and gusts) have been observed at:

  • Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA), Barbados;
  • George F.L. Charles Airport (GFLCA), St Lucia and
  • Norman Manley International Airport, Jamaica.
The winds by the numbers. One mph = 1.61 km/h. Multiply 10-minute sustaned winds by 1.11 and 1.40 to get 1-minute sustained winds and 3 second gusts respectively. *Harper et al. 2010 is the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) standard.

Looking at the winds by the numbers. Speeds of 39 mph or more are storm-force or gale-force winds, gusts in this case. However, when dealing with tropical cyclones, categorization is based on a maximum 1-minute sustaned wind speed. To convert from 10-minute wind speeds to 1-minute wind speeds, multiply by 1.11. Thus, parts of Barbados, Jamaica and St. Lucia had sustained storm-force windsstorm conditions (35×1.11 = 39 mph or 63 km/h). However, note that there are no tropical cyclones in the area.

Winds blow because of the differential of pressure across the Earth’s surface. The higher the horizontal differential or the higher the pressure gradient, the stronger the winds. The strong winds, over the next several days, will continue to be due to a very steep pressure gradient. The pressure will be that steep largely due to a 1042 millibar high-pressure system moving off the US east coast.

Pressure pattern forecast for 2 am Saturday, January 11, 2020
The ususal pressure pattern across the North Atlantic for January. Note that the usual difference of pressure between Bermuda High and the Caribbean is around 6 to 8 mb.

Immediately above is the usual pressure pattern for the North Atlantic. Note that the usual difference in pressure between the Bermuda High and the Caribbean is around 6 to 8 millibars. However, compare the graphic below to the one above and you will observed that the difference in pressure between the Bermuda High and the Caribbean (at 2 am, Sat, 11 Jan 2020) was 20 to 24 millibars. Thus, the pressure difference and gradient were two to four times higher that usual or 200 to 400% of normal; hence, the very strong winds.

North Atlantiuc surface chart – 2 am, Saturday, 11 January 2020

The highest and most dangerous waves will take place across the waters of the western Caribbean – between Jamaica and Columbia. This area will also experience the strongest winds – 51 to 64 km/h (32 to 40 mph), gale-force/storm-force winds, with gusts in excess of 96 km/h (60 mph).

Advisories and or warnings to mariners have been issued by a number of islands, including Antigua and Barbuda, Puerto Rico and Barbados.

As a small craft operator, if an advisory is issued – inexperienced mariners, especially those operating smaller vessels should avoid navigating in these conditions. If a small craft warning is issued – you should stay in or very near port.

Potential impacts from this hazardous sea event include injuries or loss of life, damage or loss of boats and fishing equipment and disruption to sea transportation. Other possible impacts comprise of:

  • disruptions to sea search and rescue;
  • scarcity of seafood;
  • disruptions to off shore marine recreation and businesses;
  • business and economic losses.

On the other hand, the strong winds could result in further disruptions to transportation and outdoor sporting activities, soil erosion, vehicular accidents and financial losses.

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Potworks Dam Back Online!

23 12 2019

Dale C. S. Destin|

Potworks Dam, Antigua’s largest water catchment, is back online after being offline from around middle of last month, for the fourth time this year. The billion-gallon catchment water levels rose above extraction levels during the rains of late November and early December allowing for it to be reconnected to country’s water lines, to supply potable water.

Ian Lewis, Manager – Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) Water Business Unit

For the year, the Dam first fell below extraction levels back in April but was topped up in late May. It again went below extraction levels in September but was topped up later that month. And again, it fell below extraction levels around mid-November but was partially recharged late November/early December; hence the reason why it is back online.

There is now a slight meteorological drought, which started in October. Based on the latest forecasts, over the upcoming months, it is expected to persist or worsen. Prior to this drought, there was a severe drought from October 2017 to April 2019 – 19 month long.

For the month of November, the catchment area – Bethesda Village, received a little over 100 mm (over 4 in) of rainfall. This is below normal but twice the total for October – 54.9 mm (2.16 in), which is well below normal 150-175 mm (6-7 in). Already, for December, the area has had over 100 mm (over 4 in), which is more than usual.

With Potworks back above extraction levels along with other smaller catchments, water rationing has been terminated, according to the Antigua Public Utility Authority (APUA), the water authority. However, there remains a hydrological drought of, at least, moderate intensity, with no end in sight.

Potworks Dam is less than a quarter full (over three-quarters empty). It has around 200,000 million gallons compared to a capacity of a billion gallons. It has been over five years since it reached capacity; being close to empty or empty has been the norm since 2014.

Potworks Dam – December 4, 2019. Pic courtesy Karen Corbin – Antigua Humane Society

According to APUA, at the usual rate of extraction, the Dam has two to three months of water supply. This means that it will be a part of the country’s water mix until March – the heart of the dry season. Thus, there is not enough surface water to last through the dry season – January to June 2020.

Recharge of catchments is very unlikely during the dry season. This is especially so for this coming dry season, as the outlook is for below normal rainfall being most likely. Hence, Potworks is expected to come offline again by March and will likely remain offline from then until the wetter portion of the wet season – August to November.

Precipitation forecast for January-March 2020, based on 12 global models – 40 to 50% chance of below normal rainfall for Antigua and the rest of the Eastern Caribbean
The outlook shows 45% chance of below normal rainfall for Antigua and the northeast Caribbean for March to May 2020

Given the season and the forecast, a return to water rationing is almost inevitable in about three months, when Potworks Dam is expected to be offline again. Water conservation and efficiency cannot be over encouraged. Let us treat water like the scarce but precious commodity that it is and make every drop count. Think rain!

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Another Windy, Rough and Wet Week Ahead

16 12 2019

Dale C. S. Destin|

Rough Seas – Photo by Getty Images

This is a new week, but similar weather is expected to last week’s – windy and wet with rough seas. Winds are expected to surge over the next 24 hours, resulting in the winds becoming fresh to strong by Monday night. This will in turn cause hazardous seas and wet weather across much of the Caribbean Basin, including Antigua and Barbuda.

The winds and seas will be a threat to the life and property of mainly mariners. Some outdoor activities, on land, could also become dangerous.

By late Monday, the winds will rise to the range of 26 to 42 km/h (16 to 26 mph) with stronger gusts . It is expected that the winds will gusts to near storm-force/gale-force – 63 km/h (39 mph), mainly over open waters, exposed coastal areas and elevated terrains.

Given the expected winds, a high wind advisory may be required, particularly for the areas listed above. If a high wind advisory is issued, residents should secure loose and light outdoor items, which can be blown away, and caution should be taken when driving.

As the winds go, so go the seas – as the winds go up, the seas will go up also and become hazardous. Seas (significant wave height – SWH) are forecast to rise to a range of 2 to 3 metres (7-10 feet) with the potential extreme (10% chance) of reaching over 3.5 metres or 12 feet. Notwithstanding, the potential extreme SWH, seas are expected to occasionally reach near 4 metres (13 feet).  

Recall that seas are given as SWH, which is the average height of the highest 1/3 of the waves. Individual waves may be twice the SWH.

Given the expected height of the seas, particularly wind waves, a small craft warning is expected to go into effect for much of the waters of the Eastern Caribbean Monday night through Thursday morning. An advisory is in effect and one will be in effect after the warning.

Recall that a small craft warning generally means that wind speeds of 38 to 61 km/h (24 to 38 mph) and or seas of 9 feet or greater are expected to produce hazardous wave conditions to small crafts. If or when a warning is issued, small craft operators should stay in or near port and safeguard their vessels.

Impacts possible/likely/expected from hazardous seas include the following:

  • Loss of life;
  • injuries;
  • sea search and rescue disruptions;
  • disruptions to sea transportation;
  • scarcity of sea food;
  • damage or loss of boats and fishing equipment;
  • disruptions to marine recreation and businesses
  • and economic losses. 

Other impacts from the high winds, apart from hazardous seas, include:

  • injuries;
  • soil erosion;
  • localized disruptions of businesses;
  • disruption to outdoor and sporting activities;
  • disruption of transportation (air and especially sea) and
  • vehicular accidents and financial losses.

Wind of this strength could make some outdoor activities uncomfortable, if not outright dangerous. High winds can create dangerous fallen or blowing objects.

The strongest winds and the highest and most dangerous seas will take place on Tuesday. The highest seas will take place in the Atlantic waters of the islands.

The strong winds will be due to a very steep pressure gradient. Think of the pressure gradient like a hill and the wind as a car. The steeper the hill the faster the car will roll down the hill and vice versa. On a weather map, the steepest gradient and strongest winds are where the lines of equal pressure (isobars) are closest.

The higher than usual winds will destabilize the atmosphere, resulting in brief passing showers from time to time. Possible rainfall total for the week across the Eastern Caribbean is 25 to 150 mm (1-6 inches). The highest totals are likely across the southern Caribbean.

Last week, similar type weather took place. The area had fresh to strong winds with gusts in excess of 48 km/h (30 mph). The whole of the Eastern Caribbean had wet weather with some areas experiencing rainfall in excess of 150 mm (6 inches).

Seas will subside from warning to advisory levels by Thusday; however, it is unclear as to when seas will return to safe levels – when no warning, advisory or caution is required.

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