Puerto Rico and U.S.Virgin Islands Severe Rainfall
November 12-14, 2003
Heavy rains over Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands during the week of November 10-15 2003, led to widespread flash flooding, and numerous mud, land and rock slides. In Puerto Rico, 19 municipalities were declared a federal disaster area, with total damages estimated around 45 million. The U.S. Virgin Islands were also declared a federal disaster area, with damages estimates around 25-30 million.
On November 10, 2003, an active tropical wave approached the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico as a mid to upper level low pressure trough advanced towards Eastern Hispaniola from the Bahamas. All ingredients for heavy rains were beginning to come together across the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rio. As the strong tropical wave crossed the area from east to west, it set up a south to southeast wind flow over the Northeast Caribbean that allowed for abundant low level moisture to slide into the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. By Tuesday November 11, 2003, the strong tropical wave evolved into a broad area of low pressure which developed across the Caribbean Sea southwest of Puerto Rico. This low pressure at the surface extended from Hispaniola eastward into the Leeward Islands and was expected to slowly strengthen through Wednesday, and to eventually move northeast. A reconnaissance aircraft flew into the suspect low pressure area on Tuesday, but was unable to find a closed circulation center at the surface. However, it did find that the lowest sea level pressure was just east of the Eastern tip of Hispaniola. The combination of all these factors, an almost stationary broad low pressure, a mid to upper level trough to the west, southeast low level winds, and a plume of moist mid to high level air stream from northern South America, led to a period of widespread and continuous heavy rains across all of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, resulting in generalized flash floods and river floods. The heaviest rains affected Puerto Rico through Friday November 14, and the U.S. Virgin Islands through early Saturday morning, November 15.
- Rio Grande de Loiza below Damsite - 26 feet
- Rio Grande de Manati at Hwy 2 near Manati - 22 feet
- Rio Gurabo at Gurabo - 21 feet
- Rio Jacaguas at Juana Diaz - 20 feet
- Rio de La Plata at Hwy 2 at Toa Alta - 19 feet
- Rio de La Plata below La Plata Damsite - 18 feet
- Rio de La Plata at Comerio - 16 feet
- Rio Caonillas at Paso Palma - 15 feet
- Rio Guanajibo at Hwy 119 at San German - 15 feet
- Rio Culebrinas at Hwy 404 near Moca - 15 feet
- The highest reservoir water levels rises were observed at:
- Lago Cerrillos at Damsite near Ponce - 39 feet
- Lago Toa Vaca at Damsite - 16 feet
In the U.S. Virgin Islands, rainfall varied from 2.6 inches in St. Thomas to 3.65 inches in St. John. This additional rainfall exacerbated the pre existent flood situation even more, since not much rainfall was needed to cause flooding.
In Puerto Rico, flood effects on the population were considerable. A total of 19 municipalities were declared a federal disaster, Arroyo, Cabo Rojo, Canovanas, Fajardo, Guanica, Guayama, Juana Diaz, Loiza, Luquillo, Maunabo, Naguabo, Patillas, Rio Grande, Salinas, Santa Isabel, Toa Baja, Yabucoa, and Yauco. The most seriously affected were Guanica, Santa Isabel, Salinas, Juana Diaz, Yabucoa and Maunabo. Infrastructure and personal losses were estimated at 8 million. Agricultural losses accounted for approximately $ 31 million. The greatest crop loss was coffee, followed by plantains, oranges, and sugar cane. Total damages amounted to around 45 million. There were two deaths in Puerto Rico, one in Aibonito by drowning and another in Ciales. The highest rainfall fell in Naguabo. Approximately 860 people across the island were forced from their homes into shelters due to flooding. Many bridges and roads sustained damages.