Hurricane Omar Veers Towards Open Ocean

As reported by Anahad O’Connor for The New York Times.

He came, he saw, he fizzled?

Hurricane Omar, a powerful storm capable of inflicting yet more damage near the tail-end of a hurricane season that has already produced sweeping devastation, sliced through the southern Caribbean on Thursday, stirring up panic and widespread hurricane warnings. But instead of heading northwest on a course toward the Gulf of Mexico — a region still reeling from the impact of two previous hurricanes — Omar appeared to weaken as it veered off on a less perilous path into the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean, the National Hurricane Center said.

As of noon Eastern time on Thursday, the storm was deteriorating rapidly, having already been downgraded from category 3 (with sustained winds of up to 125 miles an hour) to category 1 (up to 85 miles an hour) in the span of just a few hours. It was about 180 miles northeast of the Leeward Islands at midday and was expected to weaken even further as it spins east.

The forecast was welcome news for Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba, island nations that took a severe beating from hurricanes Ike and Gustav, two ferocious storms that struck consecutively in September. Altogether, the pair of hurricanes claimed more than 300 lives in the Caribbean — a majority of them in Haiti, a nation prone to flooding and mudslides — and dozens of lives across the Gulf of Mexico.

The two storms struck at the height of a particularly destructive hurricane season, one that caused tens of billions of dollars worth of property damage and left entire towns and neighborhoods — in Texas and the Caribbean — under water.

Hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean typically peaks around Sept. 10 each year, but storms can continue to flare up long after that, sometimes as late as November.

For a while, Omar, the fifteenth named storm of the season, appeared to be following in the earlier hurricanes’ footsteps. It roared to life on Tuesday off the coast of Venezuela, and seemed to have a chance of veering into the Dominican Republic. But instead it blew past the northern Leeward islands, including the Virgin Islands, at Category 3 speeds.

As Omar approached, the Coast Guard shut down Christiansted harbor on St. Croix, where an oil refinery is located. The storm knocked down trees htere, sparked some flooding, and caused several cruise ships to be diverted to other ports, but left no serious damage, the Associated Press reported.

The storm may also have contributed to one death, at least indirectly. Authorities on the island of Culebra, off the coast of Puerto Rico, said that a 55-year-old man collapsed and died from a heart attack while installing storm shutters on his house, according to the Associated Press. No other deaths have been reported thus far.

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