By Alan Markoff
In the years prior to the Internet, hurricane tracking was a seasonal hobby for many Cayman Islands residents.
Hurricane tracking maps were published in the annual “Cayman Compass Hurricane Guide” and were also available for free at certain retail stores. These gridded maps of the Caribbean Sea referenced longitude and latitude numbers along the bottom and side. When there was a tropical storm or hurricane in the Atlantic Basin, Cayman residents would listen to the news – on the radio prior to local television broadcasting in 1992 – to get updates on the position of the storm, and then mark it on the map, drawing a line from point to point to follow the path. This would give people an idea of the general track of a tropical cyclone.
The Internet changed the way people tracked hurricanes by allowing them to access the U.S. National Weather Service’s National Hurricane Center website – as well as many others – where people could not only learn the current location of a storm, but could also see the forecast track and even the latest satellite images of the storm itself.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan’s destruction on Grand Cayman in September 2004 and then Hurricane Paloma’s devastation of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman in November 2008, more residents have turned to the Internet during hurricane season to get virtually up-to-the-hour information about any storms lurking in the Atlantic Ocean or Caribbean Sea.
THE NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER
A product of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service, the National Hurricane Centre issues forecasts for tropical cyclones in the Atlantic basin and Eastern Pacific Ocean. These forecasts are the official forecasts for the United States, and for many other regional countries, including the Cayman Islands.
On its website, the National Hurricane Centre posts a Tropical Weather Discussion where all significant weather features in the Atlantic Basin are discussed. During the hurricane season, it also issues a Tropical Weather Outlook that identifies and discusses areas of disturbed weather or tropical waves that have the potential of becoming tropical cyclones.
Color-coded graphics that identify those disturbed weather areas by a low, medium or high chance of formation within 48 hours are issued along with the discussion. Starting in 2015, the National Hurricane Centre will also issue, as an official fixture, a graphic representing the five-day potential of an area becoming a tropical cyclone, along with a cone showing its likely path.
CAYMAN COMPASS ONLINE
In addition to posting the most recent information from the National Hurricane Centre, Cayman Compass online posts the most recent information issued by Hazard Management Cayman Islands or other official Cayman government agencies that form part of the Joint Communications Services.
This kind of localised information is vital before, during and after hurricanes. The website also contains information disseminated by private sector entities like utilities, schools, airlines, banks, medical practitioners and others with regard to closing hours, supplies and important notices.
Although most other hurricane tracking websites will also use data and imagery provided by the National Hurricane Centre, several offer different graphical representations or even different features.
In addition, Weather Underground founder Jeff Masters, who has a doctorate in meteorology, writes a blog, usually daily when there are active tropical cyclones, discussing storms, areas of disturbed weather that could become tropical cyclones.
CAYMAN PREPARED HAZARD MANAGEMENT CAYMAN ISLANDS
This site offers comprehensive information for people living in the Cayman Islands on how to prepare for a storm and what to do in its aftermath. It features a downloadable hurricane information kit with handy tips and emergency contacts.
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE CAYMAN ISLANDS GOVERNMENT
The meteorological office forecasts and monitors weather events and provides up-to-date information on disturbances and storms.
STORM CARIB – CARIBBEAN HURRICANE NETWORK
This site features in-depth information, weather discussions and local reports regarding tropical storm systems threatening the Caribbean.