Gusty Winds Down Trees, Cause Power Outages Across T&T

Gusty winds ripped across parts of Trinidad and Tobago on Friday, with wind gusts up to 75 KM/H recorded across parts of the islands.

Winds began to pick up near midday, with a wind gust of 48 KM/H recorded at Piarco at 11:18 AM but the worst was yet to come.

Trees began to fall shortly after midday, with a large tree falling on the Claude Noel Highway in Tobago, in the vicinity of FT Farfan, temporarily blocking part of the highway.

Fallen tree on the Claude Noel Highway in the vicinity of FT Farfan. Photos: TEMA

By the mid-afternoon, sustained winds up to 40 KM/H and wind gusts in excess of 70 KM/H accompanied isolated and intermittent showers across both islands.

Power dips were reported across parts of Southern and Northern Trinidad, while in Central Trinidad, an official at T&TEC confirmed 15 outages were reported between Chaguanas and Claxton Bay Friday afternoon.

There were also numerous reports of sparking lines along parts of Caroni and Corinth.

At 3:00 PM, a line of showers brought gusty winds across Trinidad, downing trees at Vessigny and Arima.

Downed Tree along the Southern Main Road in the vicinity of Vessigny

In Vessigny, a tree fell across the Southern Main Road, temporarily blocking both lanes. However, this was cleared within 2 hours and traffic returned to normal operations.

In Arima, at 3:00 PM, a gust of wind downed a large tree on the compound of Arima Centenary Primary School. This tree tore down power lines, damaged a utility pole, destroyed a wall of the primary school and damaged a nearby home.

Although no injuries were reported, though the tree did fall on a vehicle where four children and one adult were occupants. One of the children was subsequently taken to a nearby medical facility to be examined following a severe panic attack.

The El Carmen Street in Arima was impassable up until last night as officials from the Trinidad and Tobago Fire Service continued clearing efforts and T&TEC continued to reconnect supply to the area.

What Caused These Gusty Winds?

A strong 1043 millibar high-pressure system in the North Atlantic, north of the Caribbean, has caused a steep pressure gradient across the Caribbean Region.

Wind across the earth are due to differences in pressure. The higher the pressure gradient or the horizontal differential, the stronger the winds. The sea-level pressure across Trinidad ranges between 1010-1015 millibars, while to the north of us, presently, the pressure is at 1043 millibars.

8 AM Saturday 11th January 2020 Surface Analysis showing the strong 1043 MB High-Pressure system north of the Caribbean. Image: National Hurricane Center
8 AM Saturday 11th January 2020 Surface Analysis showing the strong 1043 MB High-Pressure system north of the Caribbean. Image: National Hurricane Center

This high-pressure system has a name, the North Atlantic Subtropical High-pressure system or the Bermuda High. This typically becomes stronger in January and triggers the start of the dry season across Trinidad and Tobago, once a number of other factors fall into place.

Note that the usual difference in pressure between the Bermuda High and the Caribbean is around 6 to 8 millibars. The sea-level pressure across Trinidad ranges between 1010-1015 millibars. However, compare the surface analysis above to the graphic below and the pressure difference between the Bermuda High and the Caribbean, at 8:00 AM Saturday 11th January 2020, was near 27 millibars. Thus, the pressure difference and gradient were four to five times higher than usual; hence the very strong winds.

The ususal pressure pattern across the North Atlantic for January. Note that the usual difference of pressure between Bermuda High and the Caribbean is around 6 to 8 mb.
The usual pressure pattern across the North Atlantic for January. Note that the usual difference of pressure between Bermuda High and the Caribbean is around 6 to 8 MB. Image: 286weather.com

This steep pressure gradient will remain in place over the next several days, into late next week as that high-pressure system maintains its strength over the North Atlantic.

As we move higher in the atmosphere, winds generally increase to a point. Hence, while we may see peak sustained winds between 30-40 KM/H, when showers are present, those stronger winds are brought down to the surface.

This is why we saw gusts up to 75 KM/H on Friday and we may see similar strength gusts through the next week as brisk, isolated showers continue to interrupt partly cloudy to mostly sunny skies.

Another consequence of these winds is agitated seas, with waves up to and sometimes in excess of 3.5 meters in open waters and choppy conditions in bays and beaches (or what we call sheltered areas). Hence, a Hazardous Seas Alert #2 (Yellow Level) remains in effect through 2 PM Wednesday 15th January 2020.

Impacts on T&T’s Shorelines

Impacts possible from rough seas include the following:

  • Loss of life;
  • Injuries;
  • Sea search and rescue disruptions;
  • Disruptions to sea transportation;
  • Scarcity of seafood;
  • Damage or loss of boats and fishing equipment;
  • Disruptions to marine recreation and businesses
  • Economic losses.

Other impacts from the high winds, apart from hazardous seas, include:

  • Injuries;
  • Coastal erosion;
  • Localized disruptions of businesses;
  • Disruption to outdoor and sporting activities;
  • Disruption of transportation (air and especially sea) and

Wind of this strength could make some outdoor activities uncomfortable, if not outright dangerous. High winds can create dangerous fallen or blowing objects.

The strongest winds and the highest and most dangerous seas will begin on Thursday. The highest seas will take place in the Atlantic waters of the islands.

There is also the potential for loss of life. There is a high risk of rip currents, strong currents that can carry even the strongest swimmers out to sea.

Rip currents are powerful channels of water flowing quickly away from the shore, which occur most often at low spots or breaks in the sandbar and near structures such as groins, jetties, and piers. If caught in a rip current, relax and float. Don’t swim against the current. If able, swim in a direction following the shoreline. If unable to escape, face the shore and call or wave for help.

There is also the potential for injuries to beachgoers; beach closures; localized disruptions to marine recreation and businesses and financial losses.

High tides combined with onshore wind and swell actions could result in localized coastal flooding and beach erosion.

High surfs can knock spectators off exposed rocks and jetties. Breaking waves may occasionally impact harbors making navigating the harbor channel dangerous.

Saltwater will likely splash onto low-lying coastal roads such as the South Trunk Road at Mosquito Creek, the Guayaguayare Mayaro Road at the Guayaguayare Sea Wall, and the Manzanilla-Mayaro Road. Bays and beaches may become inundated.

Coral reefs may experience increased stress and damages, in addition to localized beach erosion, particularly in areas where battering waves focus.

Note that for those still heading to the beaches, particularly along Eastern coastlines, a significant amount of seafoam may be whipped up due to strong gusty winds.

With wind gusts in excess of 75 KM/H, whole trees are expected to be in motion and there may be some inconvenience when walking against the wind gusts.

Light outdoor objects may topple or become airborne such as garbage cans, potted plants, loose galvanize or construction material and other outdoor furniture. Tents may jump. Older/weaker trees may fall, bringing down utility poles and lines.

Gusty winds may also damage trees, power lines, and small structures.

High Wind Event Precautions
High Wind Event Precautions
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