Tropical Storm Fred weakened to a tropical depression Wednesday night as it passed over Hispaniola and continued to bring heavy rains over Haiti and the Dominican Republican, according to the National Hurricane Center.
In an 11 p.m. update, the hurricane center said the depression was about 35 miles south of Cap Haitien, a coastal city in Haiti, with maximum sustained winds of 35 miles per hour. It is moving toward the west-northwest at 15 miles per hour, the center said.
The government of the Dominican Republic discontinued a tropical storm warning that had been in effect for parts of the north coast. The storm formed late Tuesday night as the sixth named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season.
A tropical storm warning has been lifted for the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, which had been swept by rain and wind since Tuesday as the storm moved northwest toward the Gulf of Mexico. The hurricane center warned of up to four inches of rain in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, and said some areas could see up to six inches, leading to flash flooding.
A tropical storm watch was in effect for parts of Haiti, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas, where rainfall forecasts were slightly lower.
The center of the storm was expected to move near the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas on Thursday, and then toward the northern coast of central Cuba on Friday. Cuba braced itself for the incoming storm, issuing a tropical storm watch for its central and eastern regions, the cities of Ciego de Avila, Camagüey, Las Tunas, Holguín, Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo, and the province of Granma.
The storm will then head northwest into the Gulf of Mexico, near Florida, according to a hurricane center forecast. Wind and rain could threaten Florida by Friday, but forecast details were still unclear, the hurricane center said.
The authorities in Puerto Rico said that power outages and flooding had been reported across the island. Luma, the company that has been operating Puerto Rico’s power transmission and distribution system since last month, said on Twitter that a few areas were still without power, and that it was prioritizing outages disrupting health care, transportation and communication.
Officials in the Dominican Republic spent Wednesday morning preparing for possible hurricane-level damage along the country’s southeastern coast. Government workers walked through impoverished neighborhoods in Santo Domingo with megaphones on Wednesday, urging people in low-lying areas of the capital to evacuate, The Associated Press reported.
The country’s Civil Defense, which is in charge of emergency preparedness, said it had been monitoring areas near rivers and other bodies of water, setting up shelters in case people are displaced by flooding.
Government forecasters in the Dominican Republic warned that 10- or 11-foot waves were possible along the country’s southern coast and asked all ships to remain at port. One of the Santo Domingo’s main avenues which sits right on the coast was closed because of the waves.
The heavy rain much of the day has caused floods in some parts of the city and uprooted trees, which caused some traffic disturbances.
The links between hurricanes and climate change are becoming more apparent. A warming planet can expect to experience stronger hurricanes over time, and a higher incidence of the most powerful storms — though the overall number of storms could drop because factors like stronger wind shear could keep weaker storms from forming.
Hurricanes are also becoming wetter because of more water vapor in the warmer atmosphere; scientists have suggested storms like Hurricane Harvey in 2017 produced far more rain than they would have without the human effects on climate. Also, rising sea levels are contributing to higher storm surge — the most destructive element of tropical cyclones.
A major United Nations climate report released on Monday warned that nations had delayed curbing their fossil-fuel emissions for so long that they could no longer stop global warming from intensifying over the next 30 years, leading to more frequent life-threatening heat waves and severe droughts. Tropical cyclones have most likely become more intense over the past 40 years, the report said, a shift that cannot be explained by natural variability alone.
Ana became the first named storm of the season on May 23, making this the seventh year in a row that a named storm developed in the Atlantic before the official start of the season on June 1.
The most recent named storm in the Atlantic was Hurricane Elsa, in early July. Elsa cut through Cuba and then Florida, eventually making its way into New York City, where heavy rainfall from the storm flooded subway stations and roadways.
In May, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast that there would be 13 to 20 named storms this year, six to 10 of which would be hurricanes, and three to five major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher in the Atlantic. Last week, in a midseason update to the forecast, they continued to warn that this year’s hurricane season would be an above average one, suggesting a busy end to the season.
Matthew Rosencrans of NOAA said that an updated forecast suggested that there would be 15 to 21 named storms, including seven to 10 hurricanes, by the end of the season on Nov. 30.
Last year, there were 30 named storms, including six major hurricanes, forcing meteorologists to exhaust the alphabet for the second time and move to using Greek letters.
It was the highest number of storms on record, surpassing the 28 from 2005, and included the second-highest number of hurricanes on record.
Jesus Jiménez, Christine Hauser Isabella Grullón Paz and Azi Paybarah contributed reporting.