Fiona has strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane, reaching sustained winds of 80 mph with gusts of up to 100 mph as it churns in the Caribbean about 50 miles south of Puerto Rico, bringing with it the threats of flooding and mudslides, according to the National Hurricane Center’s latest update.
The storm’s impacts have already been felt: At least one death has been reported in Basse-Terre in the French territory of Guadeloupe, according to the vice president of the territory’s environmental agency, who said the capital had been devastated by flooding. And in Puerto Rico – where more than 310,000 customers were without power as of 10:45 a.m. ET Sunday, according to PowerOutage.us – flash flooding has already begun, the National Weather Service said.
The hurricane – the third of the 2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season – is bearing down on Puerto Rico south of the city of Ponce, the hurricane center said. Heavy rain and tropical storm-force winds are already affecting the US Virgin Islands and much of Puerto Rico.
“Additional strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours while Fiona moves near Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and over the southwestern Atlantic,” the hurricane center said. “Hurricane conditions are expected on Puerto Rico today, and are expected in portions of the eastern Dominican Republic tonight and Monday.”
Fiona’s center, on the current forecast, is expected to approach Sunday morning before moving near or over southwestern Puerto Rico in the afternoon or evening.
The National Weather Service on Sunday issued flash flood warnings across parts of southern and eastern Puerto Rico, including Ponce and Yabucoa, through at least mid-afternoon, noting flooding had started after an estimated 1 to 2 inches of rain had already fallen.
Very heavy rainfall of 12 to 16 inches is forecast across a wide swath of Puerto Rico, with most of the rain expected Sunday, and isolated locations across southern and eastern Puerto Rico could see up to 25 inches, per the hurricane center.
The northern and eastern Dominican Republic, too, is forecast to see 4 to 8 inches of rain, with isolated totals up to 12 inches possible.
“These rains will produce life-threatening flash flooding and urban flooding across Puerto Rico and the eastern Dominican Republic, along with mudslides and landslides in areas of higher terrain,” the hurricane center said.
Storm surge presents another threat, and it could raise water levels by as much as 1 to 3 feet above normal tide levels along Puerto Rico’s southern coast and in the Dominican Republic, where onshore winds will be strongest.
A hurricane warning – indicating hurricane conditions are expected – was issued for Puerto Rico, including the islands of Vieques and Culebra, and later expanded to include the eastern Dominican Republic from Cabo Caucedo to Cabo Frances Viejo. The US Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic’s northern coast, from Cabo Frances Viejo west to Puerto Plata, are under a hurricane watch Sunday morning, meaning hurricane conditions are possible in the next 48 hours.
President Joe Biden on Sunday morning approved an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico, freeing up federal resources, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for emergency response and disaster relief efforts.
The threat won’t end once the storm passes between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic: Further strengthening is forecast, and the storm could become a Category 2 hurricane as it tracks east of the Bahamas, where the government issued a tropical storm watch for the southeastern Bahamas and a tropical storm watch or the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Tropical storm conditions are possible in the Turks and Caicos and the southeastern Bahamas by late Monday or early Tuesday.