Hurricane Fiona rapidly intensified overnight and became the first major hurricane of the 2022 season as it rains down torrential conditions to the Turks and Caicos, the National Hurricane Center said Tuesday morning. Meanwhile, as Caribbean islands reel from the effects of Fiona, the NHC is monitoring two other disturbances with high odds of becoming the next tropical storm.
A hurricane hunter aircraft confirmed Fiona is now a Category 3 hurricane at 115 mph, the NHC said in its 8 a.m. update. The jump in strength was accompanied by satellite data now showing Fiona’s eye being very distinct. And Fiona may not be done powering up, said Jack Beven, an NHC specialist, as the storm is forecast to become even stronger.
Currently, Fiona is facing some wind, but “it appears it will not be strong enough to prevent additional intensification, and Fiona is likely to become a category 4 hurricane during this time,” Beven said.
As of 8 a.m., Fiona’s hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 30 miles with tropical-storm-force winds up to 150 miles. The storm is located now 10 miles southeast of Grand Turk Island moving northwest at 10 mph. Heavy rainfall and life-threatening flash flooding are still affecting portions of the Dominican Republic as the storm barrels toward Grand Turk.
A hurricane warning is in effect for the Turks and Caicos with a hurricane watch and tropical storm warnings in place for parts of the Dominican Republic. A tropical storm warning is also in place for the southern Bahamas.
At 3:20 p.m. Sunday, the system made landfall on the extreme southwestern coast near Punta Tocon on the anniversary day of Hurricane Hugo, which slammed into the island in 1989 as a Category 3 storm, and two days before the fifth year anniversary of Hurricane Maria. It then made a second landfall in the Dominican Republic’s far eastern coast on Monday.
Throughout Monday, both the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico were reeling from the storm’s effects, where at least two people were reported dead. A 58-year-old man died after police said he was swept away by a river in the central mountain town of Comerio, according to the Associated Press. Another death was linked to a power blackout — a 70-year-old man was burned to death after he tried to fill his generator with gasoline while it was running, officials said.
The southeastern edge of Puerto Rico was inundated by historic flooding due to a deluge of 30 inches of rain, the NWS said. Floods and wind damage disrupted the entire island’s power grid, leaving all of its citizens in the dark overnight, said Luma Energy, the company that operates power transmission and distribution. By Tuesday morning, authorities said they had restored power to more than 260,000 customers on the island of 3.2 million people.
Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi has warned it could take days before everyone has electricity, the AP reported.
Fiona’s landfall came just two days prior to the anniversary of Hurricane Maria and the devastation that it brought to the island territory. Maria’s damages were so great that power to some areas of Puerto Rico wasn’t restored until nearly a year after the storm passed. The reconstruction of Puerto Rico’s power grid started recently. Outages are a daily occurrence, and fires at power plants have occurred in recent months.
Fiona’s massive rain totals caused landslides and rising floodwaters with rushing rivers of brown water that enveloped cars, first floors, and even an airport runway in the island’s southern region.
Since the start of the storm, National Guard troops have rescued more than 900 people, Gen. José Reyes told a news conference.
The storm washed away a bridge in the central mountain town of Utuado that police say was installed by the National Guard after Hurricane Maria hit in 2017. Large landslides also were reported, with water rushing down big slabs of broken asphalt and into gullies.
Water service was cut to more than 837,000 customers — two-thirds of the total on the island — because of turbid water at filtration plants or lack of power, officials said.
The storm pummeled cities and towns along Puerto Rico’s southern coast that are still recovering from a string of strong earthquakes that hit the region starting in late 2019, with several schools still shuttered and debris to be removed.
U.S. President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency in the U.S. territory and has been in frequent contact with Pierluisi since.
“Today, I spoke with Gov. Pierluisi to address the immediate needs of Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Fiona,” Biden said in a tweet. “We discussed federal personnel working to assist the island’s recovery, and I assured the Governor that we’ll increase support substantially in the coming days.”
Meanwhile, in the Dominican Republic, authorities closed ports and beaches and told most people to stay home from work. The government reported one death from falling trees.
Health centers were running on generators — and some of those had failed. Health Secretary Carlos Mellado said crews rushed to repair generators at the Comprehensive Cancer Center, where several patients had to be evacuated.
Already, storm surge and a deluge from Fiona plagued the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe with at least one death confirmed Sunday when officials with French overseas territory said floods washed his home away. The storm left behind heavy road damage in Guadeloupe with video on Twitter showing fast-moving floods flowing down streets up to washed-out roads and streets flooded up to 2 feet washing away cars. Projected rainfall had been more than 8 inches in some parts of the island.
As for Fiona’s future, the system’s updated path forecasts it to travel further away from Florida, with the center moving northwest into the Atlantic and threatening Bermuda by the end of the week. Fiona is forecast to intensify into a Category 4 major hurricane with 130 mph winds and 160 mph gusts by Wednesday, the NHC said.
Elsewhere in the Atlantic, the NHC is monitoring two disturbances with increasing odds of becoming the next tropical storm. First, a tropical wave was detected Thursday midway between the west coast of Africa and the Lesser Antilles islands. The weather system of disorganized showers and thunderstorms is associated with a weak trough of low pressure and is 950 miles west-southwest of the Azores. A tropical depression is likely to form in the next couple of days, said Philippe Papin, an NHC specialist, giving it an 80% chance of formation in the next two-to-five days.
Second, specialists are also watching a tropical wave that emerged Monday afternoon and has a 50% chance of developing in the next five days, as well as a 10% chance in the next two days. A tropical depression is likely to form by the end of this week. But for now, the wave is several hundred miles east of the Windward Islands and is moving west at 15-20 mph while producing disorganized showers and thunderstorms. Gradual development is possible as the wave pushes into the Caribbean over the weekend.
The next two names on the hurricane center’s list are Gaston and Hermine.
Last week, Colorado State University issued a two-week forecast and called for a 50% chance of above-average activity in the tropics, as well as a 40% chance of normal activity and a 10% chance of below-average. Hurricane season is in the middle of its “peak,” or the time of the year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration observes the highest frequency of tropical storms.
In August, the NOAA issued a forecast calling for a season of above-average activity.
Fiona became the season’s third hurricane following hurricanes Daniella and Earl earlier this month. What had been forecast to be an above-average tropical season was mostly quiet in July and August before picking up steam on Sept. 1.
The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1-Nov. 30.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.