The track forecast on Tropical Depression Tomas from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) has remained very consistent over the past few days in taking the tropical cyclone in the general direction of Haiti. After previously forecasting Tomas to strengthen into a hurricane as it hears Haiti, the NHC has now backed off and is forecasting it to be a strong tropical storm as it makes its closest approach to Haiti.
As my previous blog on Tomas reminded us, Haiti doesn’t have to get a direct hit or even a hurricane to cause tremendous damage and loss of life. Here is another example.
The above picture from one of the NOAA polar-orbiting satellites shows a disorganized-looking Tropical Storm Jeanne from 2004. Florida and Cuba are clearly visible while Hisplaniola and Puerto Rico are partially obscured by clouds. At the time of the picture, Jeanne was centered just off the north coast of Haiti and had maximum sustained winds of 50 mph. Jeanne was not a hurricane when it made its closest point of approach to Haiti and it did not make a direct hit on Haiti. Yet the NHC tropical cyclone report states that “media reports indicate that the death toll in Haiti is over 3000, including nearly 2900 in the mud-crusted coastal city of Gonaives, and that some 200,000 people in Gonaives lost their homes, belongings, and livelihoods…”
NHC’s most recent discussion states “Regardless of the exact track and intensity of Tomas, the tropical cyclone will pose a significant threat of heavy rainfall, flooding, and potential mud slides over Haiti and the Dominican Republic later in the week.” Given that somewhere in the neighborhood of one million people are living in tents in Haiti, impacts of Tomas could be devastating to that country.