NC asks: Bertha again?

Posted August 1, 2014 2:21 p.m. EDT
Updated August 1, 2014 4:48 p.m. EDT

— As Tropical Storm Bertha approached the Caribbean on Friday, residents of North Carolina dug into the memory banks to note that a storm by the same name caused a dozen deaths, including two in the Tar Heel State, in 1996.

That Bertha made landfall near Wilmington at 4 p.m. July 12 as a Category 2 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

As a general rule, the hurricane center reuses storm names every six years, retiring and replacing names when a storm generates widespread damage, death or destruction. The hurricane center criteria say, "The only time that there is a change is if a storm is so deadly or costly that the future use of its name on a different storm would be inappropriate for obvious reasons of sensitivity."

Dennis Feltgen from the National Hurricane Center said Friday that Bertha in 1996 did not quite rate retirement, despite estimates that about 5,000 homes were damaged, mostly by storm surge.

"The World Meteorological Organization Region IV hurricane committee did not believe that 1996's Hurricane Bertha met the criteria for the name to be retired," he said.

This time around, North Carolina is not in the forecast track for the storm, which on Friday afternoon was moving west by northwest at about 22 mph with sustained winds of 50 mph.

The storm generated some rain and wind as it passed just north of Barbados on Friday, but no damage has been reported, said Judy Thomas, director of the island's emergency management agency.

"At this point in time, it's had no impact," she said in a phone interview, adding that the rain helped relieve a drought that began earlier this year.

Tropical storm warnings were issued for Dominica, Martinique, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. A tropical storm watch is in effect for the eastern Dominican Republic.

In St. Lucia, emergency management officials reported overcast skies with constant showers.

"It looks like we're just beginning to see the start of it," Junius St. Hill, acting lead fireman, said by phone. "Today's a holiday, so most people would be indoors anyway."

In Dominica, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit ordered all businesses closed by Friday afternoon to prepare for the storm.

Antigua-based regional airline LIAT also canceled several flights in Dominica and St. Lucia.

Bertha is expected to generate up to 3 inches (8 centimeters) of rain across the eastern and northern Caribbean, with isolated amounts of up to 6 inches (15 centimeters) in certain areas.

Officials in Puerto Rico are welcoming the rainfall amid a moderate drought that has hit the island's southern region and a small portion in the northeast. More than half of the U.S. territory also is experiencing abnormally dry conditions, with the government reporting $20 million in crop losses.

Strict rationing measures are scheduled to go into effect starting Aug. 6 if the storm doesn't generate enough rain.

"Whether it falls where it needs to fall, that's still to be seen," said Jose Antonio Estrada, National Weather Service meteorologist.

He said the storm is moving quickly and that its effects would be felt all day Saturday in Puerto Rico. Authorities closed El Yunque rainforest, a popular tourist attraction in northeast Puerto Rico, until further notice.