Extreme Winds and Seas to Usher in the New Year

28 12 2020

Dale C. S. Destin |

Extreme wind and marine events are forecast for this week across the northeast Caribbean, including Antigua and Barbuda. The howling wind event will take place Thursday – NEW YEAR’S EVE, through Saturday – January 2, whereas the life-threatening marine event will take place New Year’s Eve night through Sunday – January 3. Warnings and advisories for strong winds, rough seas and high surfs will be required for most islands.

Northeast Caribbean: Estimated max 3-second gusts; max sustained 10-minute winds; average of the top 10% of significant wave heights and average of top 10% of swells

The angry winds and seas could cause notable socio-economic impacts to the islands. Similar actions by nature, earlier this year, caused ships to turn away from Antigua and Barbuda and cancelled ferry services. There were also reports of LIAT aborting landings in some islands; banana trees being downed in some countries and power outage in some areas.

The kick-off of these unwelcome but not unusual events is expected on Thursday. The pressure gradient will rapidly and significantly steepen, which will become evident by the closeness of the isobars – lines of equal pressure, on our weather maps. The closer the isobars, the steeper the pressure gradient, the stronger the winds and vice versa.

Gale-force gusts, the equivalent to tropical storm-force gusts, are likely – gusts exceeding 78 km/h (over 48 mph). Otherwise, the winds will frequently be above 40 km/h (over 25 mph). The maximum sustained 10-minute wind speeds will likely reach around 50 km/h (31 mph), whereas the maximum sustained 1-minute winds will reach around 56 km/h (35 mph). The strongest winds are forecast for New Year’s Day, especially across open waters, windward coastal areas and elevated places. The prevailing wind direction will be northeast.

Visualization of wind gusts (shaded) wind direction (short solid lines) and isobars (long solid lines with numbers – pressure in millibars) – December 31 2020 to January 4 2021

As the winds go, so go the seas. The tumultuous winds will cause the seas to rise and become extremely threatening – very rough in open waters on Thursday through Sunday. Significant wave heights could peak at or above 4 metres (over 13 feet), locally exceeding 5 metres (near 17 feet). The highest seas are also expected on New Year’s Day. These seas will be non-navigational for small craft and even some non-small-craft operators.

Significant wave heights according to the ECMWF WAM Model – December 31 2020 to January 5 2021

High swells and surfs (breaking waves) are also forecast for Sunday. Swells in excess of 2.5 metres (over 8 feet) and surfs in excess of 3 metres (over 10 feet) are likely. These breaking waves will make for very dangerous conditions for beachgoers and others using the coastlines.

The events will make for a high threat to the life and livelihood and property and infrastructure of mariners and users of the nearshore areas. There is also the potential for extensive impacts including the following:

  • Loss of life
  • Injuries
  • Damage or loss of boats and fishing equipment
  • Saltwater intrusion and disruptions to potable water from desalination
  • Coastal flooding from sea water splashing onto low lying coastal roads
  • Sea search and rescue disruptions
  • Cancellations to transportation (especially by sea)
  • Scarcity of sea food
  • Disruption or cancellation to sporting and recreation events (especially marine activities)
  • Businesses and economic losses

To be safe, mariners should stay in or near port and beachgoers should stay out of the waters for affected coastlines. Also, residents should secure light and loose objects, which can be blown away, and caution should be taken when driving. The anticipated blustery winds could make some outdoor activities uncomfortable, if not outright dangerous. These winds can also create dangerous fallen or blowing objects.

The turbulent winds will unsettle the atmosphere, resulting in brief heavy showers. However, rainfall accumulations will only be of minimal concern, at most.

These events will affect virtually the entire Caribbean Basin, at different times. They will start across the Bahamas and the Western Caribbean on Tuesday and reach the northeast Caribbean on Thursday. Then, they will spread across the southern Caribbean by Friday – New Year’s Day. The extreme events will come to an end by Sunday, January 3, 2021, although seas will likely still be hazardous for some areas, beyond Sunday.

At times, it may feel like there is a tropical storm in the area, but I can ashore you that there is none. The hurricane season remains over.

Check and monitor your local forecasts, from your national weather service, for details specific to your location. This is a relatively broad scale view; hence, the numbers WILL change either way.

Please continue to follow me for more on these extreme events and all things weather and climate via TwitterFacebook and Instagram. Also, share this blog, if you found it useful.


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