September’s Hurricanes Are Over, but the Suffering Isn’t

September 30, 2017, 7:49 PM EDT

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Above: In this photo from Thursday, September 28, 2017, Sandy Nieves stands in the doorway of her heavily damaged home in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico. Nieves said her greatest need is her home and especially her baby's bed. "We don't have anywhere to sleep, we don't have our stuff. We are all sleeping in one bed at my mom's house." Image credit: AP Photo/Gerald Herbert.

Six weeks of hyperactivity in the tropical Atlantic were finally drawing to a close on Saturday. At 5 am EDT, former Hurricane Lee was declared a post-tropical cyclone in a final advisory from the National Hurricane Center. Lee was racing northeast across the central North Atlantic at more than 40 mph, with peak winds of 50 mph and no organized showers and thunderstorms (convection). A few hundred miles to the west, Tropical Storm Maria was hanging onto a small area of convection near its center, with top sustained winds of 60 mph. This convection was rapidly dissipating on Saturday afternoon, though, and cold air wrapping into the storm will transform Maria into a midlatitude (post-tropical) cyclone, perhaps as soon as Saturday night.

The odds of a tropical cyclone developing in the Atlantic over the next several days have dropped substantially since Friday. No closed circulation has formed along the zone of disturbed weather from the northwest Caribbean across Florida, and wind shear is now rapidly increasing across the area, virtually shutting down any near-term chance of development. NHC’s odds of a tropical depression with this system were dropped at 2 pm EDT Saturday to just 10% in the 2- and 5-day periods.

Torrential rains moving into Puerto Rico

Another disturbance, this one extending across the northeast Caribbean, also remained disorganized on Saturday. NHC gave this disturbance near-zero odds of development in the 2- and 5-day periods. However, as this system drifts west, it is producing pockets of heavy rain across the hurricane-weary northeast Caribbean. A flash flood watch remains in place for Puerto Rico through this weekend, and a flood advisory was in effect for eastern Puerto Rico through 4 pm EDT Saturday. Heavy rains were moving onshore from the east at midday Saturday.

Our next area of concern in the Atlantic will most likely be a broad area of low pressure expected to gradually strengthen next week across the northwest Caribbean, where very high levels of oceanic heat content are in place. Global models, including the 06Z Saturday run of the GFS model and the 12Z Saturday run of the European model, continue to lend support to the idea of a tropical cyclone forming somewhere near western Cuba and moving into the eastern Gulf of Mexico about a week from now.

Infrared image of a northeast Caribbean disturbance at 2:15 pm EDT Saturday, September 30, 2017
Figure 1. Infrared image of the northeast Caribbean disturbance at 2:15 pm EDT Saturday, September 30, 2017. Torrential rains were moving into Puerto Rico from the east. Image credit: NASA/MSFC Earth Science Branch.
A farm in Barranquitas, Puerto Rico, destroyed by Hurricane Maria
Figure 2. This undated photo provided by Hector Alejandro Santiago shows his farm in Barranquitas, Puerto Rico, destroyed by Hurricane Maria. Farmers fear Puerto Rico's small but diverse agricultural sector may never recover from the destruction to one of the island's economic bright spots. Image credit: Héctor Alejandro Santiago via AP.

How you can help

Over the last six weeks, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria have left a mind-numbing trail of destruction across a number of Caribbean islands and several parts of the United States, including Texas, Florida, neighboring states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Insured losses across these affected areas could easily run past $100 billion, and if past storms are any guide, uninsured losses could equal or exceed the insured amounts. For just one point of comparison on the scale of this loss, consider that the entire yearly budget of the U.S. military is around $600 billion.

A vast reconstruction and recovery effort lies ahead for communities and citizens from Dominica to the Florida Keys to Houston. The most urgent crisis now, though, is in Puerto Rico, where the power grid remains out, transportation is severely hobbled, communications are sketchy at best, and many thousands of residents are running low on water and food. It has taken more than a week for federal relief efforts to begin ramping up to a scale commensurate with the unique hurdles posed by Maria’s devastation. A report in the Washington Post lays out some of the factors in this troubling delay, which have uncomfortable echoes of the delayed response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The official death toll in Puerto Rico of 16 is almost certain to rise; we can only hope it will remain far below the horrifying numbers that resulted from Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi. Even if it does, the people of Puerto Rico are dealing with severe hardship on multiple levels—including this weekend’s heavy rains, which will be falling atop countless homes that lack roofs.

Angelina Rodriguez Lopez (left) waits for medical attention at a temporary facility set up near Dorado Medical Center, Puerto Rico.
Figure 3. Angelina Rodriguez Lopez (left) waits for medical attention at Dorado Medical Center, in Dorado, Puerto Rico, on Saturday, September 30, 2017. The center was closed due to damage from Hurricane Maria together with a lack of fuel, forcing healthcare workers to provide aid from a tent hospital. Image credit: Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images.

Along with the work being done now by the U.S. military and civilian agencies and the Puerto Rican government, private citizens can make a difference by assisting nonprofits that are helping Puerto Rico as well as other devastated areas recover from the Atlantic hurricanes of recent weeks. At, you’ll find agencies dedicated to relief efforts in the wake of Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

The disaster relief charity, founded and staffed by members of the wunderground community, has been tremendously busy the last few weeks. “Portlight Strategies and the Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies have assisted many thousands of hurricane survivors with disabilities, older adults, their families and their communities over the past month,” Portlight notes in an update on its website. “We have been attempting to deploy several disability leaders to Puerto Rico and [the U.S. Virgin Islands] since Monday, and will have them on the ground identifying needs and providing solutions as soon as we can get their travel cleared. Among our leadership team are several Puerto Rican natives.”

The Hispanic Federation, which receives top ratings from Charity Navigator, has launched a dedicated fund for assistance in Puerto Rico. To donate to this fund, choose the designation “Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief” on the federation website.

A gofundme campaign from a group called ViequesLove is aiming to bring relief to the island of Vieques (population 9,000), located off the southeast coast of the main island of Puerto Rico. Vieques received a battering from the strong northern eyewall of Maria.

USVI Recover is the official site for recovery efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands from Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. The nonprofit Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands (CFVI) has established the Fund for the Virgin Islands, with 100% of donations benefiting those in crisis.

We’ll be back on Sunday with our next post.

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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Bob Henson

Bob Henson is a meteorologist and writer at, where he co-produces the Category 6 news site at Weather Underground. He spent many years at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and is the author of “The Thinking Person’s Guide to Climate Change” and “Weather on the Air: A History of Broadcast Meteorology.”

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