Tropical Storm Karen triggers flash flood warning in Puerto Rico

Sept. 24 (UPI) — Tropical storm warnings remained in effect Tuesday as heavy rain from Tropical Storm Karen spread across the U.S. and British Virgin Islands as well as parts of Puerto Rico.

The storm was closing in on Puerto Rico after a 6.0-magnitude earthquake struck off the island’s northwest coast late Monday.

Karen weakened from a tropical storm to a tropical depression on Monday afternoon, but regained tropical storm status early Tuesday morning. It could bring tropical-storm-force wind gusts of 39 mph or greater to some areas.

In its 8 p.m. EDT update, the National Hurricane Center said the center of the storm was located about 45 miles east of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and 10 miles north of Culebra, Puerto Rico. It was moving northeast at 10 mph and had maximum sustained winds of 45 mph.

The National Hurricane Center said the storm was slightly stronger than the Tuesday morning hours and rain was spreading across the Virgin Islands as well as the islands of Vieques and Culebra, located off Puerto Rico’s east coast.

While Karen is forecast to remain weak through the middle of this week, the storm is likely to cause heavy rain over part of the northern Caribbean islands.

AccuWeather meteorologists expect Karen to take a northerly path that will bring the system well northeast of the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas on Thursday, but not before passing through Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands on Tuesday.

Satellite images early Tuesday morning indicate that Karen’s circulation is slightly better organized than it was on Monday.

“The storm has been experiencing strong northeasterly vertical wind shear the past two days, and that will continue through Wednesday,” Dan Kottlowski, AccuWeather’s top hurricane expert, said.

As a result, “Karen should remain a weak tropical system into the middle of this week,” he added.

However, the system is likely to pack enough punch to bring drenching downpours and locally gusty thunderstorms from Puerto Rico to the U.S. and British Virgin Islands into Wednesday. Karen is expected to unleash 2 inches to 4 inches of rain with an AccuWeather Local StormMax of 8 inches.

The AccuWeather RealImpact Scale for Karen on these islands and others in the eastern Caribbean is less than one.

The main threats will be from localized flash flooding, mudslides and rockslides on the hilly terrain.

Seas and surf will build as the storm moves northward over the region. Small craft should remain in port, and swimmers should be wary of the likelihood of strong and frequent rip currents.

Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez activated the National Guard on Monday to assist with intervention in flood-prone areas.

The government of the U.S. Virgin Islands announced Monday that all government offices and public schools would close ahead of Karen’s approach. The Department of Public Works announced it would open sites for sandbag distribution.

From Thursday into next week, Karen’s path is highly uncertain as steering winds may become weak and erratic.

“Provided high pressure builds north of Karen later this week, the clockwise flow around that high should begin to steer the storm on a more westerly track,” Kottlowski said.

During that time, there is the potential for Karen to become a hurricane.

“As a result of the short-range track and the potential long-range track and strength, interests from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to the Bahamas and Florida should monitor Karen,” Kottlowski said.

Meanwhile, Tropical Depression 13 formed Sunday night just off the coast of Africa. During midday Monday, the depression was upgraded to Tropical Storm Lorenzo.

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