Another Disaster in Haiti Tonight?

In Haiti, you have several natural and man-made components working against them. The country is in the tropics, where the atmosphere contains vast amounts of moisture. Much of the country is mountainous, and this makes it extremely vulnerable to flash flooding. The country is almost completely without trees, making the flooding problem much worse. Basic quality of life issues, like clean water and healthy food, are always in short supply. On top of all that, Haiti is occasionally hit by tropical storms and hurricanes. And just to add insult to injury, the country is near a major fault in the Earth’s crust that sometimes generates massive earthquakes. Unfortunately, 2010 might be a year where all of these components converge.

Usually, tropical weather systems move from east to west across the Caribbean Sea from June to November. These easterly wind currents pick up and carry the tropical storms and transport them to wherever the wind is blowing. In some years, during late October and November things can change. As the North Pole begins to get colder in the fall, the mid-latitude wind currents begin to push farther south. By middle to late autumn, they can penetrate into the Deep South. These mid-latitude winds blow mostly from the west to the east, opposite the direction over the Caribbean Sea -- any tropical storm or hurricane that gets caught in this west to east wind will be carried along by them.

That is just the situation that is developing right now. Tomas is gaining strength in the Caribbean Sea. Southwesterly winds will steer it to the north and then northeast, making the storm a threat to Haiti for Thursday night and Friday, and possibly the weekend if the storm slows its forward motion. It’s the slow forward movement of the storm that could cause the rains to linger and produce the nightmare flash flooding.

Most attention is focused on the results of the mid-term elections here in the United States, and rightly so. However, should Tomas bring 15 inches of rain to Haiti, we may see the headlines shift to yet another disaster in a county that is still suffering from last January’s massive earthquake.