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Stormy weather sign of things to come?

June 6, 2013

A maple tree lay on the lawn at 658 Elder Ballou Road following Hurricane Irene in August 2011. File photo/Ernest A. Brown

WOONSOCKET – Just a week into the official start of hurricane season, Southern New England will get a sample of what Mother Nature may have in store as the remnants of Tropical Storm Andrea pummel the region today with torrential rain.
The first named storm of the season lashed Florida with winds up to 60 mph, but the trek across land will sap most of Andrea’s windpower by the time she arrives this morning
Still, the National Weather Services is predicting Andrea could dump 3 inches or more of rain in the Greater Woonsocket area, most of it tonight.
“Some areas could see two and 3-plus inches of rain in less than six hours,” the weather service says.
National Weather Service Meteorologist Chris Roller said the center of the low-pressure system is expected to pass over the mid-Cape area, which means most of Rhode Island and inland Massachusetts will be on the wetter, western side of the rainmaker. Residents of those areas are advised to take precautions against flooding in watershed zones, low-lying areas and spots with poor drainage.
Local weatherman Arthur Cadoret of Cumberland says the rain-making dynamics of the storm will actually be the result of two weather systems poised to merge over the region. A cold front laden with moisture will be moving in from the west about the same time the tropical system moves up from the south.
“A storm of that nature produces an abnormally large amount of rain in a very short period of time,” he says.
So far this year rainfall totals have been slightly below average, while the last several have been wetter than usual, Cadoret said. Andrea could set the stage for a return to more normal conditions or even the onset of another wetter-than-usual year overall.
The weatherman for radio station WNRI, Cadoret says he doesn’t expect many problems from Andrea in terms of wind damage or flooding. The rain might even have an upside for some.
“It’s hitting at a very good time in the growing season because this is the peak time for all the tender vegetation like corn and tomatoes to get going,” he said. “Certainly when you get adequate rain that helps.”
The rain begins in earnest during the day today – just a quarter to a half inch is expected – but another 1 to 2 inches could fall tonight and another quarter to half inch Saturday morning before the system moves off the coast, according to the weather service.
Beachfront communities from New Jersey to Misquamicut are still struggling to overcome the devastation caused by the last tropical system to collide with the Atlantic seaboard. By comparison, Andrea is a meteorological gnat, but memories of Sandy’s havoc may be cause for many to take note of the opening salvo of hurricane season.
Dave Graves, a spokesman for National Grid, isn’t expecting any hurricane-size problems from Andrea, but he said the utility is still taking some precautionary measures in direct proportion to the threat.
He said a few utility crews would be given pagers and placed on standby overnight Friday so they can be summoned in a hurry if problems do surface.
“Right now it does not appear to be anything out of the ordinary,” said Graves. “It looks like its going to be primarily a rain event.”
Graves says National Grid is regularly tries to mitigate the potential effects of hurricanes on power lines by pruning tree limbs in heavily wooded areas.
By the end of the company’s fiscal year, on March 31, 2014, the company will have trimmed trees along approximately 1,300 miles of roads used in the Rhode Island distribution system, spending about $8.67 million on the work.
Trimming is done in four-year cycles, he said, “so that lines being trimmed this year will be done again in 2017.” He said there are about 5,000 miles over overhead power lines in National Grid’s distribution system in the Ocean State.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is already predicting that the 2013 hurricane season, which began June 1, will be more active than usual. The NOAA, which runs the weather service, is forecasting only a 25 percent chance of a “near-normal” season, which generally means a dozen named storms, perhaps a half of them hurricanes.
This year the NOAA forecasts a 70 percent chance that 13-20 named storms will churn out of the southern seas, including 7-11 hurricanes and 3-6 “major” hurricanes.
Earlier this week, weather.com reported that Providence was on its top 10 list of U.S. cities most overdue to get slammed by a major hurricane. Most of the other contenders are in Florida, but weather.com said Providence was 21 years behind schedule for a major hit.
The NOAA doesn’t make predictions about where hurricanes will make landfall. But it says the risk is too great for anyone in the potential path of an Atlantic hurricane to ignore.
“It only takes one storm hitting an area to cause a disaster, regardless of the overall activity predicted in the seasonal outlook,” the NOAA said in a statement. “Therefore, residents, businesses, and government agencies of coastal and near-coastal regions are urged to prepare every hurricane season regardless of this, or any other, seasonal outlook.
Roller says most hurricanes in the Atlantic region form in the Caribbean Ocean or the South Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of South Africa. That’s the easy part.
Figuring out where they’re going depends on the interplay of an ever-changing mix of climatic variables.
“We can only give a possibility of a certain number of hurricanes that will happen in a general season,” he says. “The weather patterns play a huge rule in where those storms will go.”
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo

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