At about 3 pm, the country was placed on a tropical storm warning but even before the Meteorological Services of TT issued this advisory, thousands of workers and school-children had already begun to leave the capital of Port-of-Spain in Trinidad, as well as Scarborough in Tobago, alerted by earlier reports of an approaching system of bad weather.
Tobago and north Trinidad were expected to experience the effects of Tomas last evening.
In a statement to the House of Representatives, just before 4.30 pm, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar confirmed the country had been put on alert.
“As with the Met Office, we have seen in the past what could happen or not happen...and so, I think it is very important for us to be put on alert...for the national community to be put on alert,” Persad-Bissessar told the House.
She disclosed steps had been taken to dismiss schools early based on the advice of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM).
Persad-Bissessar subsequently called an emergency meeting of all heads of the ODPM, Police Service, Defence Force, Community-Based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme (CEPEP) and other government agencies at about 8.30 pm at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s.
Minutes after the storm warning was issued, director of the Meteorological Services of TT, Emmanuel Moolchan said they had skipped the stage of issuing a tropical storm watch “because the storm was too close to us.”
A tropical storm watch allows for a 48-hour period before the storm makes landfall, while a tropical storm warning means there is a definite threat of the storm making landfall within or before the 36-hour period.
Following advisories overnight on Thursday of an approaching tropical wave, citizens anxiously began to make inquiries on if there would be a storm early yesterday morning. As radio and television stations broadcast the ODPM and Meterological Services advisories, schools began to send students home by 12 pm.
In anticipation of the inclement weather, the Ministry of Education advised all schools to be closed at 1 pm. Esuyemi Ogunbanke, brand coordinator at the ministry, said permanent secretary Maurice Suite issued the directive based on advice from the ODPM.
Ogunbanke said, “It was not based on any reports from weather reports we got from radio and television, as we got our directives from the Government.”
A school official at St Mary’s College in Port-of-Spain said the principal, Father Ronald Mendez, dismissed classes prior to the advice from the Education Ministry, due the unfavourable weather advisory. Scores of public sector workers also left work early as permanent secretaries sent out notices to departments that workers could leave at 1 pm. Many private businesses opted to close their doors early to allow workers to leave. The scores of persons trying to get home caused massive traffic pile-ups along major highways and many others encountered trouble for transport at the City Gate transit hub, South Quay, Port-of-Spain.
There were reports of commuters being stranded along the East/West Corridor as taxi drivers stopped working. For example, up to 7 pm, persons trying to get to Sangre Grande were waiting for transport in Arima.
However, the traffic jams eased by 7 pm, as commuters were able to finally get transportation home. Port-of-Spain was empty of its after-work limers by this time.
Persons also flocked to the supermarkets to stock up on emergency supplies while hundreds more filled the gas stations as they adopted preparedness measures on short notice.
The ODPM also issued weather advisories via cell-phones text-messages to members of the public.
“Tropical wave intensifying. Prepare for heavy showers and gusty winds over 55km/hr from around midday and continuing into the weekend. Monitor official updates,” the text message read.
In a bulletin issued at 3 pm, the Meteorological Service said Tomas was located approximately 300 kilometres east of Tobago and warned that “Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada and its dependencies can expect tropical storm conditions within 36 hours.”
Moving towards the west north-west between 24 and 32 km/hr, acting meteorologist Ezekiel Sampson said, “Tomas is expected to continue on this general track over the next 24 to 48 hours during which it is expected to intensify as environmental conditions are conducive for strengthening.”
The Meteorological Service warned that Tomas had maximum sustained winds of 75 km/hr with higher gusts, and that “Tobago, northern Trinidad, Grenada and its dependencies would be exposed to tropical storm conditions from about midnight tonight (last night).”
Sampson stressed that Tomas had the capacity to “produce total rainfall accumulations of 75 to 100 mm and possibly 125 to 150 mm over Tobago, northern Trinidad, Grenada and its dependencies.”
South and Central Trinidad were told to brace for between “25 and 75 mm” of rainfall in some places while sea conditions were forecast to become “very disturbed.”
Reports from Tobago indicate that the island began experiencing a “steady drizzle” from 3.15 pm, accompanied by gusty winds.