Fiona reaches hurricane strength

Hurricane Fiona strengthened overnight and became a hurricane today. It moved south of Puerto Rico, bringing up to 25 inches of rain to some parts of the island.

As of 11 a.m., the National Hurricane Center advisory reported that its center was about 50 miles south of Ponce, Puerto Rico, with maximum sustained winds of 8 mph moving west-northwest at 8 mph.

The hurricane’s strong winds stretched out to 140 miles, with gusts approaching 55 mph tracked by weather stations in Puerto Rico on Sunday morning.

“On the forecast track, Fiona’s center will approach Puerto Rico this morning and move near or over Puerto Rico this afternoon or evening,” said NHC hurricane expert Brad Reinhart. “Fiona will then move off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic tonight and on Monday and near or east of the Turks and Caicos Islands on Tuesday.”

A hurricane warning is in effect for parts of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, and a hurricane watch is in place for the U.S. Virgin Islands. Tropical storm warnings remain in place for more parts of the United States and the British Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic, with tropical storm warnings in effect for the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas.

Heavy rainfall from the system continued over the U.S. and the British Virgin Islands, but was now over Puerto Rico and is expected to start affecting the Dominican Republic by the end of the day, the NHC said.

“These rainfalls will produce life-threatening flash floods and urban flooding in parts of Puerto Rico and the eastern Dominican Republic, as well as mudslides and landslides in higher-lying areas,” Reinhardt said.

The entire island is expected to drop 12 to 16 inches, and some areas will drop 25 inches.

“Now is the time for action and attention,” said Puerto Rico Emergency Management Commissioner Nino Correa.

The storm is expected to hit towns along Puerto Rico’s southern coast that are still recovering from a series of powerful earthquakes that hit the region starting in late 2019, and several schools remain closed and debris needs to be cleared. By Saturday night, more than 100 people had sought shelter on the island, most of them in the southern coastal city of Guayañilla.

Fiona is due two days before the anniversary of Hurricane Maria, a deadly Category 4 storm that struck on September 18. On February 20, 2017, anxiety levels were high across the island. People boarded up windows and stocked up on food and water.

“I think all of us Puerto Ricans who have experienced Maria have the post-traumatic stress, ‘What’s going to happen, how long is it going to last, what needs are we likely to face?'” said Danny Hernández, who worked at Maria. The capital of San Juan, but plans to spend time with his parents and family in the western town of Mayaguez.

Many Puerto Ricans are also worried about power outages, with Luma, which operates transmission and distribution, warning of “widespread service disruptions.”

Puerto Rico’s power grid, which was flattened by Hurricane Maria, remains vulnerable and has only recently begun to rebuild. Power outages are happening every day, and in recent months, fires have occurred at power plants.

Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said he is ready to declare a state of emergency if necessary and activate the National Guard as the sixth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season approaches.

The system’s updated path predicts it will move away from Florida, center over western Puerto Rico as the system moves northwest, and as it moves east of the Turks and Caicos into the Atlantic Ocean and threatens Bermuda over the weekend as a strong Category 2 system with 110 mph winds and 130 mph gusts.

Storm surge and flooding from Fiona have plagued the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, with reports that at least two people were washed away on Saturday and more than 20 had to be rescued by rising waters. One of them was confirmed dead on Sunday.

The storm left serious road damage in Guadeloupe, with video on Twitter showing fast-moving floodwaters swept down roads that washed away 2 feet of cars.

Some parts of the island are forecast to receive more than 8 inches of rain.

Government officials in France’s overseas ministry said the two missing were swept away overnight by rising waters.

Elsewhere in the Atlantic, a tropical wave was spotted on Thursday between the west coast of Africa and the Lesser Antilles. The weather system is producing chaotic showers and thunderstorms that are expected to develop slowly as it turns north over the mid-subtropical Atlantic later this weekend and early next week. NHC gave it a 20% molding rate in five days.

Although unlikely, their appearance coincides with the release of Colorado State University’s tropical forecast for the next two weeks, saying the tropics could get busier, with a 50 percent chance of above-average activity. CSU also gave a 40 percent chance of normal activity and a 10 percent chance of below-average activity.

Fiona could be the third hurricane of the season after Hurricanes Daniela and Earl earlier this month.

The above-average tropical season is expected to be quiet for most of July and August before picking up in September. 1.

Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November. 30.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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