Severe Thunderstorms Rip Off Roofs, Down Trees in Southern Trinidad

Shelf cloud spotted in La Romain as severe thunderstorms and showers move across Southern Trinidad Tuesday morning.

The passage of heavy showers and severe thunderstorms overnight brought brisk heavy rainfall and severe winds to parts of Southern Trinidad overnight.

10:40 PM – A line of moderate to heavy showers are moving across Trinidad. Main hazards are gusty winds and brief, locally heavy rainfall. ttweathercenter.com

Posted by Trinidad and Tobago Weather Center on Monday, December 2, 2019

The first line of heavy showers moved across the Trinidad between 10:00 PM and 11:15 PM, with wind gusts up to 50 KM/H and sustained winds of 30 KM/H recorded at Piarco International Airport at 11:04 PM.

11:40 PM – Gusty winds continue to affect parts of Trinidad as a line of showers weaken. Wind gusts up to 50 KM/H have been recorded. Video: Fyzabad, Southern Trinidad.ttweathercenter.com

Posted by Trinidad and Tobago Weather Center on Monday, December 2, 2019

Damaging winds accompanied the severe thunderstorms at approximately 2:00 AM early Tuesday, which caused chaos in parts of Cragnish Village, Buen Intento and Princes Town (proper).

Gusty Winds resulting from a severe thunderstorm ripped off the roof of a home in Cragnish Village, Princes Town. Recovery efforts are ongoing. Photos: Guardian Media Limited (Ivan Toolsie)

Speaking to Trinidad and Tobago Weather Center, MP for Princes Town Barry Padarath confirmed that as of 2:00 PM, 10 homes and 2 businesses were affected with a number of roofs partially to completely blown off.

He also reported that a tree fell on one home, which sustained severe damage.

Gusty Winds resulting from a severe thunderstorm ripped off the roof of a home in Cragnish Village, Princes Town. Recovery efforts are ongoing. Image: Fabian Jerry
Gusty Winds resulting from a severe thunderstorm caused roof damage in Cragnish Village, Princes Town. Recovery efforts are ongoing. Image: Fabian Jerry

Power was knocked out to the area, as several galvanize sheets and roof fragments became entangled with power lines. Parts of King Street, Princes Town was blocked last night as the Fire Service was unable to move portions of a roof that was suspended from power lines which may be energized.

 Gusty Winds resulting from a severe thunderstorm ripped off the roof, entangled in power lines at Kings Street, Princes Town. Recovery efforts are ongoing. Image: Fabian Jerry
Gusty Winds resulting from a severe thunderstorm ripped off the roof, entangled in power lines at Kings Street, Princes Town. Recovery efforts are ongoing. Image: Fabian Jerry

A roof also fell on a car, approximately 3 houses away. Residents, early Tuesday morning, were able to manually lift the roof for the owner to get in and drive the car out. The hood and windshield sustained damage.

Damaged car at Kings Street, Princes Town following a roof landing on it during overnight severe thunderstorms. Recovery efforts are ongoing. Image: Fabian Jerry
Damaged car at Kings Street, Princes Town following a roof landing on it during overnight severe thunderstorms. Recovery efforts are ongoing. Image: Fabian Jerry

Several businesses also sustained damage, including the famous Quan Kep Pork Shop along the Naparima Mayaro Road. Uptown Bar and Christo’s Plumbing and Electrical Supplies also sustained wind damage.

According to Sharlene Barrington, a resident of the area, “Vendors’ tents were badly damaged, galvanize was torn off roofs and relocated elsewhere and I saw a tree in the road as well. It was pretty bad.”

Video of the severe showers and thunderstorms across Southern Trinidad overnight.

Other parts of Southern Trinidad were affected, with MP Padarath confirming parts of Moruga/Tableland also sustaining wind damage. “The Princes Town Regional Corporation is out in full force this afternoon with all newly elected councilors, assessing and assisting,” according to MP Padarath.

Padarath continued that they will be completing reports for the Ministry of Rural Development and Local Government and Ministry of Social Development and Family Services so residents can access the aid required.

Gusty Winds resulting from a severe thunderstorm ripped off the roof of a home in Cragnish Village, Princes Town. Recovery efforts are ongoing. Video: Guardian Media Limited (Ivan Toolsie)

In the interim, the Princes Town Regional Corporation has supplied tarpaulins and necessary resources to the affected residents, with additional roofing material to be provided following preliminary assessments.

What Caused This Severe, Gusty Winds AKA the “Freak Storm?”

Sometimes across Trinidad and Tobago, we experience severe thunderstorms. These thunderstorms can produce copious amounts of rain, severe winds (like on Tuesday), frequent thunder and lightning and in the most severe cases – tornadoes and hail.

Radar Imagery between 12:00 AM and 10:00 AM Tuesday 3rd December 2019. Video: Windy

At 1:45 AM Tuesday 3rd December 20199, a strong but shallow (meaning the height of the clouds were not typical of severe thunderstorms) thunderstorm began affecting Southeastern Trinidad.

A concerning signature appeared on radar, typically called a “bow-echo” or a downburst. This occurs when a thunderstorm is producing severe winds at the surface.

At this time, there were no alerts, watches or warnings in effect from the Trinidad and Tobago Meteorological Service, nor were any updates issued on any platforms.

Gusty winds caused wind damage across the Princes Town area, Southern Trinidad. Photos: Fabian Jerry

What is a “bow echo?”

Conceptual model of bow echo evolution and favored locations for downbursts, tornadoes, and bookend vortices. (b) Conceptual diagram of bow echo features and an example cross-section showing the rear-inflow notch or weak echo notch which signifies the location of a descending rear inflow jet that leads to damaging straight-line surface winds. (c) Example of a bow-echo cross-section showing radar reflectivity and storm-relative flow including the rear inflow jet (from Grim et al. 2009).

A large thunderstorm can form into a Mesoscale Convective System, known as a bow echo, because of its characteristic bow shape on radar displays. These systems typically have life cycles as above.

On radar, a bow-echo looks like a comma, with a round head on one end and a tail on the other. Because in Trinidad, our weather moves from the east to west (generally), this signature looks like a vertically and horizontally flipped comma.

The leading edge has a sharp reflectivity gradient (oranges, reds and black on the below radar image), and there are notches (of dry air) dug into the weak reflectivity gradient on the trailing edge.

These rapid moving storms can produce hail, lightning, large amounts of rain, high winds, and even tornadoes.

Across Trinidad, these strong straight-line winds are typically attributed to a “freak storm,” when in actuality, it is just a thunderstorm.

Thunderstorms and T&T

Trinidad and Tobago has heavy showers and thunderstorms. It’s part of living in a tropical area. These heavy downpours overwhelm what drainage exists from time to time and produce street flooding. In severe cases, very gusty winds occur.

Today’s heavy showers and winds are usually categorized has “freak” storms, but really, there’s nothing freak about them.

These “freak” storms are really thunderstorms. In addition to the winds and rain, they produce thunder and lightning. They are fairly common to Trinidad, Tobago and the vast majority of the world. In fact, there is, on average, 2000 of these storms occurring simultaneously at any given time around the globe.

In Trinidad, these thunderstorms generally occur during the late morning through the afternoon, particularly during the wet season. Any area in Trinidad can experience, on average, 30 to 40 thunderstorms annually. On rare occasions, as many as two to three a day in a given area.

When particular weather features traverse the region – tropical waves, tropical cyclones, surface troughs, mid- and upper-level troughs, and the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone, thunderstorms can be abundant.

Thunderstorms bring most of our rainfall and nearly all of our street/flash flooding events. Torrential downpours, such as the one today, can produce upwards of 20-30 millimeters of rainfall within an hour.

In addition, these thunderstorms can produce severe winds up to and in excess of 65 KM/H across localized areas of the country.

Stationary thunderstorms, such as those that caused the Divali 2017 floods, can produce upwards of 100 millimeters in one to two hours. Thunderstorms can last from 30 minutes to as long as two hours, depending on the speed of low to mid-level winds. More prolonged thunderstorms begin to trigger different types of flooding – street, then flash and lastly riverine flooding.

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