An intensifying Tropical Storm Fiona, on the cusp of hurricane intensity Sunday morning, is bringing heavy rains and power outages to Puerto Rico.
The big picture: The storm threatens to dump more than two feet of rain in Puerto Rico, while bringing hurricane-force winds. These winds are already starting to take out large parts of the island’s fragile electricity grid.
- As of 8 a.m. ET, Fiona was located about 65 miles south-southeast of Ponce, Puerto Rico, and was moving west-northwest at 8 mph. Its maximum sustained winds were clocking in at 70 mph.
- The storm is expected to become a Category 1 hurricane before it reaches Puerto Rico Sunday afternoon.
- President Biden has already declared a federal disaster for Puerto Rico, mobilizing the delivery of aid to the island.
Threat level: The storm is likely to bring torrential rains to Puerto Rico into Monday, with a widespread area of 12 to 16 inches of rain expected. Higher amounts will fall in some locations, particularly in higher elevations, where as much as 25 inches could fall in a short period of time.
- This will cause “life-threatening” flash flooding and mudslides, the Hurricane Center warns, while the local National Weather Service office is highlighting the threat of urban flooding from heavy rains in San Juan and other communities.
- Heavy rains and high winds are also expected in eastern areas of the Dominican Republic by Sunday evening.
- The power grid on the island, which was severely damaged during Hurricane Maria in 2017, is already faltering, with 219,966 customers without power as of 9 a.m. ET, according to Poweroutage.us.
- The test for utility operators this time will be how quickly they can restore power once the storm passes.
- Storm surge flooding of 1 to 3 feet above normally dry land is expected along the south shore of Puerto Rico on Saturday, provided the peak surge hits at high tide.
- The NWS in San Juan was issuing flash flood warnings on Sunday morning as the rains caused rivers to rise.
Of note: The storm already has a record of causing damaging flooding, having dumped nearly 20 inches of rain on the French island of Guadeloupe late last week.
What’s next: Fiona is expected to continue to intensify once it moves northwest of Puerto Rico and north of the Dominican Republic. The storm is expected to turn slowly to the north by midweek as it moves near or over the Turks and Caicos Islands.
- It is possible Fiona will become the season’s first major Atlantic hurricane of Category 3 intensity or greater.
- Most computer models now take the storm out to sea well east of the mainland U.S., but it could be a threat to Bermuda late in the week.