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Prolonged Heatwave Raises Health Concerns for Both Humans and Marine Ecosystems

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The VI Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) has sounded the alarm about persistent elevated temperatures expected to dominate the region till October. Such sweltering conditions can trigger heat-related health complications, like heat exhaustion and heat strokes, for the territory’s residents.

Recent data shared by VITEMA’s Executive Director, Daryl Jaschen, during a Government House Press Briefing, revealed that St. Croix has shattered daily temperature records consecutively over the past twelve days. The gravity of the situation is further underscored by a heat advisory from the National Weather Service in Puerto Rico. As per Jaschen, this advisory is indicative of “an impending period of intensified heat, wherein the synergy of extreme temperatures and heightened humidity could result in potential heat ailments.”

To combat these adverse conditions, the public is being urged to ramp up fluid intake and, when feasible, find solace in air-conditioned environments. Moreover, residents are counseled to minimize direct exposure to the sun and to make periodic rest intervals a routine, especially for those whose jobs demand outdoor presence.

Jaschen emphasizes the need for vigilance among supervisors, referencing guidelines set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to mitigate the risk of heat-induced illnesses for outdoor workers. “For anyone overseeing staff, it’s crucial to safeguard their well-being,” asserted Jaschen.

Furthermore, engaging in physically demanding tasks is best reserved for cooler periods, such as dawn or dusk. Jaschen also suggests that donning attire that’s light-hued and not constricting can offer some relief.

The Caribbean Climate Outlook Forum’s (CariCOF) Heat Prognosis for September 2023 to February 2024 identifies August and September as the peak heat months, with September slated to be exceptionally harsh. These scorching temperatures aren’t just perilous for humans but have drastic implications for marine life too. The Caribbean Sea and Northern Atlantic have recorded unprecedented sea surface temperatures, instigating heat-induced distress to coral reefs throughout the Caribbean. This has precipitated a surge in coral bleaching, a phenomenon that jeopardizes the reefs. Notably, these reefs play a pivotal role in shielding several islands from the brunt of hurricane-induced sea surges and other challenging marine scenarios.

Derek Manzello, the Coral Reef Watch Coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), offers some insight into the matter. He indicates that while corals have the capacity for recovery post mild bleaching events, protracted or intense heat distress elevates their mortality risk. Moreover, even those corals that manage to recover display diminished growth and reproductive capacities, with heightened susceptibility to diseases for up to four years post-recovery.

To summarize, the intense heat poses significant health threats, both to humans and marine organisms, with the hope of relief only in sight by next month.

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Forecasters Alert to Enhanced Hurricane Activity in the Atlantic for 2024

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The AccuWeather team, renowned for their expertise in hurricane forecasting, has sounded an alarm about the potential for a highly active hurricane season in the Atlantic in 2024. Jonathan Porter, the Chief Meteorologist, has voiced significant concerns regarding a season that could be amplified by a confluence of climatic conditions.

With the season commencing on June 1, there’s an anticipation of heightened activity attributed to the emergence of La Niña and the unusually high temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean. “As we transition from the current El Niño pattern to a La Niña pattern in the latter half of the season, we’re likely to see reduced wind shear, which is conducive to the formation of more tropical storms and hurricanes,” explained Porter.

Reflecting on past seasons, there’s a notable link between La Niña years and spikes in hurricane activity, with the 2005 and 2020 seasons standing out for their record-breaking 31 tropical systems. AccuWeather’s Long-Range Expert, Paul Pastelok, suggests that the latter part of 2024 might see a replication of these high-activity seasons, should La Niña materialize as anticipated.

Porter also emphasized the role of the Atlantic’s warm temperatures, noting that as of mid-February, the ocean’s warmth paralleled mid-July levels, a condition that could exacerbate as the year unfolds. “The exceptionally warm waters mean that any forming storms could intensify rapidly, even when approaching land,” he cautioned.

This year’s pronounced warmth in the Atlantic’s Main Development Region (MDR) sets a concerning precedent for the season’s potential severity. February’s ocean temperature anomalies revealed a 65% increase compared to the previous record, highlighting the likelihood of an unusually active season.

Areas along the Gulf Coast, particularly near Texas, are identified as particularly vulnerable to tropical systems this year. With Pastelok’s insights, there’s a call for increased vigilance for those residing along the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic Seaboard, especially considering the recent trend of early-season tropical system formations.

AccuWeather is set to publish its detailed forecast for the 2024 Atlantic hurricane season in March, aiming to provide both business clients and the general populace with precise information. The community is urged to pay attention to these preliminary alerts and to prepare for what could be an unparalleled hurricane season.

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Rainfall and Flood Alerts Impact St. Croix Activities, Continuing Through Thursday

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On Wednesday, St. Croix experienced significant interruptions to its daily activities due to persistent rainfall, leading to the unusual quiet of rain-soaked streets replacing the usual hustle and bustle of school and work life.

The Department of Education took proactive measures by announcing the closure of schools throughout the territory early in the morning, following notifications to parents the previous evening about the potential disruption. They also advised students who commute between the islands of St. Thomas and St. John to avoid the ferry journey.

Legal proceedings on St. Croix faced adjustments as well, with the judiciary declaring an early closure for the Superior Court starting at noon, and subsequently, all court facilities on the island were shut down by 2:30 pm due to the relentless rainfall. Non-essential government employees were directed to head home at 2:00 pm, prioritizing safety amidst worsening conditions.

Social media platforms featured videos of cars navigating waterlogged roads, highlighting the challenges posed by overflowing gutters and gullies unable to cope with the heavy downpour.

The National Weather Service (NWS) in San Juan projected that the weather conditions causing the deluge on Wednesday would extend into Thursday. The NWS issued warnings for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, cautioning of “heavy showers and thunderstorms” that may persist. The aftermath of the weather system is expected to introduce “winds and pulses of a long-period northerly swell” affecting the region through the weekend, according to the NWS.

Mariangelis Marrero-Colón, an NWS PR Meteorologist, emphasized the ongoing risk of substantial rainfall across the islands until early Thursday. “The areas poised for the greatest impact include the southern, interior, and eastern regions of Puerto Rico, along with the entirety of the U.S. Virgin Islands,” she noted, pointing out concerns over urban and flash flooding, river surges, mudslides, and the possibility of strong winds accompanying severe showers and thunderstorms.

Rainfall estimates suggest accumulations could reach up to 3 inches across the affected areas, with a higher potential in specific locales. This situation has prompted the NWS to maintain a moderate flood risk advisory. Additionally, boating conditions are expected to be hazardous, with a small craft advisory in effect through the weekend and possibly extending into the following week.

Beachgoers are cautioned against dangerous swimming conditions, especially at beaches facing north, where life-threatening rip currents are expected to be a significant risk at least until Sunday.

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National Weather Service Announces Hazardous Weather Outlook for the US Virgin Islands

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The National Weather Service in San Juan has issued a Hazardous Weather Outlook for the U.S. Virgin Islands, encompassing St. Thomas, St. John, St. Croix, and the surrounding nearshore Atlantic and Caribbean waters.

Inhabitants and visitors in the USVI are advised to brace for robust windy conditions throughout the day and into the evening. Outdoor objects are at risk of damage or may be swept away due to the prevailing strong winds.

Sea-farers are urged to proceed with caution as oceanic conditions are expected to intensify, with seas predicted to surge to heights of 8-10 feet. Wind velocities are anticipated to range from 15-25 knots, accompanied by gusts reaching up to 30 knots, posing significant risks to smaller vessels.

Additionally, there’s an elevated risk of perilous rip currents in most local beach surf zones. Beach enthusiasts are strongly advised to exercise utmost caution or consider refraining from water activities.

Forecast for Friday through Wednesday

The weather outlook extending into the next several days suggests that the breezy to windy conditions will persist, accompanied by a northerly swell. These elements are forecasted to maintain hazardous marine conditions for small craft, with sea levels expected to stay elevated at 8-10 feet. Beachgoers are particularly warned about life-threatening rip currents and breaking waves measuring 6-8 feet during the workweek.

While a gradual improvement in conditions is anticipated over the weekend, a high risk of rip currents will likely persist into Saturday. This risk is expected to decrease moderately from Sunday onwards into the early part of next week. Both residents and visitors are encouraged to keep abreast of the latest weather updates and to exercise caution during this period of hazardous weather conditions.

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