Tropical storm Tomas - which came perilously close to being sheared apart yesterday - is once again showing signs of life. The hostile upper level winds are relaxing, the storm is over near-record warm water, and it is moving into a moist atmosphere favorable for intensification.
At 11 a.m., Tomas was 355 miles south of Port Au Prince, Haiti headed west around 10 mph. Maximum sustained winds are near 50 mph. The majority of computer models track Tomas on a collision course with Haiti three to four days from now (Friday and Saturday).
Given the more favorable environment Tomas will encounter over the next 48 hours or so, the National Hurricane Center predicts the storm will intensify. By tomorrow, Tomas is likely to reach hurricane strength and could approach category 3 status by Friday, when the storm may be approaching Haiti.
The potential for a humanitarian crisis in Haiti from the impacts of Tomas cannot be overstated. If Haiti gets hit even just by 4-8 inches of rain - a conservative projection - that could be disastrous given the cholera concerns, tent cities, and mudslide potential.
As we noted yesterday, approximately1.5 million people remain in tents only nine months after the calamitous January earthquake. Storm preparations are underway but are likely to be inadequate, as Baltimore Sun's Frank Roylance describes:
International aid agencies are rushing supplies to staging areas in preparation for the expected storm. But with so many people in the relocation camps, it is considered impossible to move them all to secure shelters during the storm. Preparations include sandbagging, digging drainage ditches in the camps, and distributing tarps and ropes.
Haiti is not the only country that may suffer from Tomas. Jamaica, eastern Cuba, and the Dominican Republic could all experience torrential rain and damaging winds from this storm.
If there is good news, Tomas may encounter a more hostile environment close to the time of landfall as a strong front moving off the U.S. East Coast carries strong upper level winds towards the Caribbean. But by then, it may be too late to spare Haiti and/or its neighbors. And even if the storm does weaken, its heavy rains could still take a disastrous toll.