BRIDGETOWN, Barbados – The 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season begins today with a prediction of an above-normal hurricane season and the Caribbean having to deal with the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
“The COVID-19 pandemic, with its requirements for social distancing and stay-home measures, as well as the additional burden it has placed on health infrastructure, means that the forthcoming hurricane season will be especially challenging. It also means that the need for reliable forecasts with longer lead time and coordination disaster management plans are more important than ever before,” the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has warned.
The US-based NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, is predicting that there will be a 60 per cent chance of an above-normal season, a 30 per cent chance of a near-normal season and only a 10 per cent chance of a below-normal season. The Atlantic hurricane season runs until November 30.
NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a likely range of 13 to 19 named storms, of which six to 10 could become hurricanes, with winds of 119 km/h (74 mph) or higher, including three to six major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 178 km/h (111 mph) or higher).
An average hurricane season produces 12 named storms, of which six become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.
The Caribbean Meteorological Organization (CMO) is also urging the region to be fully prepared for the six-month hurricane period as well as the impact of the coronavirus.
“Each year, storm surge, flooding, extreme winds, tornadoes and lightning associated with hurricanes and tropical cyclones causes destruction and loss of life.
“For instance, in 2019 Category 5 Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas as the strongest hurricane on record, bringing massive devastation and many casualties,” it recalled.
Dominica which was among Caribbean countries hit by Hurricane Maria is also urging residents to take all precautions.
Acting Senior Meteorological officer, Marshall Alexander, noted that consistent with the past five years, there were at least two tropical storms before the official start of the 2020 hurricane season.
“With the hurricane season upon us the nation is also dealing with a health and physical safety situation….posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Resident must continue to follow the safety protocols (and) as always the key message is to be prepared,” he added.
Minister of State for Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction in the Bahamas, Iram Lewis, told a news conference on Sunday that the destruction caused by Hurricane Dorian last year is a reminder to all, that it only takes a direct hit by one hurricane to cause widespread destruction to our country.
“Dorian was the strongest hurricane of record to make landfall in The Bahamas and unquestionably our worst natural disaster. It will take years for us to fully recover, considering the economic loss and damage to infrastructure totalling an estimated US$3.4 billion dollars,” he said, adding that the hurricane contributed to the loss of many lives, whose families are currently grieving.
“We have studied the lessons of Dorian and note that strengthening our systems and making them more resilient are key components of the policy efforts that are being led by my ministry. The government is committed to building back with resiliency and incorporating green and smart technology. Reconstruction work is being led by the Disaster Reconstruction Authority (the DRA), which is also part of my Ministry.”
He said the COVID-19 pandemic, and necessary emergency measures implemented by the government to suppress the spread of the corona virus and save lives, have understandably slowed national preparation efforts for this hurricane season.
“In fact plans were in place for a national week of activities, cantered on hurricane preparedness – some activities included school visits, and live hurricane drills. Nevertheless, with the use of technology many of the activities were addressed in meetings with Island Administrators and focal persons, who represented government agencies that are attached to the Emergency Support Function (ESF) body.
“With the recently announced phased opening up of the country we are now able to fine tune our preparations and get back to full-paced planning and implementation efforts.”
Lewis said that it is noteworthy that forecasters have predicted an above average hurricane season this year.
“In recent years we have witnessed the effects of climate change on tropical weather systems, where warmer seas are now giving rise to severe natural disasters. Storms that were once categorized as one (1) or two (2) are now regarded as super-storms in category five (5) and above. On landing these storms cause death and catastrophic damage.
“Disaster preparedness is everybody’s business. That is, it is the responsibility of each and every one of us, inclusive of the NEMA, the DRA, other government agencies, communities, private sector, civic society and households, to be ready, so as to ensure that the impact on our lives, our properties and our livelihoods is minimized,” Lewis added.
Weather officials said that the combination of several climate factors is driving the strong likelihood for above-normal activity in the Atlantic this year.
They said there is unlikely to be an El Niño event, which typically suppresses hurricane activity.
“Also, warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, coupled with reduced vertical wind shear, weaker tropical Atlantic trade winds, and an enhanced west African monsoon all increase the likelihood for an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season. Similar conditions have been producing more active seasons since the current high-activity era began in 1995.