By John Tibbetts
Cayman Islands National Weather Service
As we transition from the dry season to the wet season, we move into a portion of the year when we must increase our awareness of life-changing dangerous storms regionally known as hurricanes. We come to the start of the Atlantic basin hurricane season that runs from June 1 until November 30.
The April 14, 2016 forecast, by Phil Klotzbach and William Gray of Colorado State University’s Tropical Cyclone Project, calls for 12 named storms, five of which are expected to become hurricanes and two major hurricanes (winds 111 miles per hour or higher). Note that this number does not include Hurricane Alex which formed out of an extra-tropical storm in January.
The team anticipates that the 2016 Atlantic basin current weakening El Niño is likely to transition to either neutral or La Niña conditions by the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season. While the tropical Atlantic is relatively warm, the far North Atlantic is quite cold. This is potentially indicative of a negative phase of the Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation, which can be reflected in the frequency of severe Atlantic hurricanes.
Despite the near-average prediction, residents are reminded that it only takes one direct hit to change our perception of the season. With this in mind, all residents should at this time evaluate their own level of preparedness and create or amend their hurricane plans.
Actions taken early will ease the level of stress associated with an approaching hurricane and the panic of last-minute preparations. Awareness of the latest tropical activity goes hand-in-hand with being prepared. In that regard, I would encourage residents to pay attention to news media and especially the local media as it will be utilised by the National Weather Service and Hazard Management Cayman Islands to communicate with the forecast of local impacts of the storm or hurricane along with other relevant local information.
While the people of the Cayman Islands have recently been blessed with a few years of low hurricane activity we cannot afford to take any season for granted. We must remember Hurricane Paloma that devastated Cayman Brac in 2008, Hurricane Ivan’s devastation of Grand Cayman in 2004 and the 1932 hurricane that killed 109 people these hurricanes can be.
While a review of the 2015 season would speak about low activity across the Atlantic, and especially for us in the Cayman Islands as we were spared the impacts of such systems, the region was not so lucky with the passage of Erika. This tropical storm resulted in 30 deaths and more than $500 million in damage in Dominica. Hurricane Joaquin caused $120.6 million damage in the Bahamas and caused the cargo ship “El Faro” to sink, killing all 33 crew members. Note that both of these hurricane names have been retired.
The CINWS maintains an excellent collaborative relationship with the National Hurricane Centre in Miami, Florida and we appreciate the significant work being carried out by this centre as well as the advances they have made in hurricane tracking. The CINWS and its dedicated staff stand ready to provide public warnings and advisories in the vent of any threat from tropical systems, detailing local impacts based on the latest storm predictions by the NHC.
Locally , the additions of the European Union-funded Kearney Gomez Weather Radar represents a high-level tool that will give greater detailed information about storms passing near the Cayman Islands. This information is used, along with a wide suite of other products, to help forecasters at our own Cayman Islands National Weather Service to better predict weather impacts.
It is also expected that the data collected by the radar will be relayed to the NHC for assimilation into the latest model inputs as well as further research into tropical cyclones.
I urge residents to pay particular attention to the local media as well as websites provided by the Cayman Compass, Hazard Management Cayman Islands and the CINWS for the latest information on storms and their potential impacts tailored for the Cayman Islands.
Being informed can lead to better personal as well as community decisions, and this can be the difference between life and death during a hurricane.
It should be noted that, sadly, Dr. William Gray passed away April 2016 and his invaluable input into seasonal prediction will be missed.[unitegallery hurricane_gallery]