A local engineering consultant has cast doubt on the strength of the winds from Hurricane Irma that affected several other northern caribbean territories in September.
At the same time, Director of Consulting Engineers Partnership (CEP) Tony Gibbs is warning that Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean must upgrade their buildings codes to withstand category five hurricanes.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida, had stated that when Irma struck Barbuda, and later, Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, the Franco-Dutch island of St Martin and the United States Virgin Islands, it was packing dangerous category five winds.
This was widely accepted, particularly considering the extent of the damage suffered by all those countries.
However, speaking this morning at the Courtyard by Marriott where the Barbados Town Planning Society held a symposium to observe World Town Planning Day, Gibbs said it was accepted in the international scientific community that the National Hurricane Center often overestimates the strength of hurricanes.
In fact, he said contrary to initial reports Puerto Rico hardly ever felt category five winds.
“When hurricane Irma struck Barbuda it was described as a Category 5 hurricane, and recently we have been doing a more detailed analysis of wind speeds of the hurricanes of 2017. Scientifically the information is quite different from what we have been getting from the National Hurricane Center.
“You can say that Barbuda did experience a category 5 hurricane. However, when you look at the actual data for Puerto Rico, even though it was reported that the island was hit by a category 5 hurricane, only a small portion of the island actually experienced close to category 3 to 4 winds. The majority of the territory was hit by category 2, [category] 1 and tropical storm winds,” the engineering consultant explained.
Despite the strength of the storm, Gibbs acknowledged that it did considerable damage to infrastructure, something he said the region must take into consideration.
In this context Gibbs warned that Caribbean countries should build to withstand category five winds since the data analysis shows that the region was in for even more severe weather systems in the next decade as a result of climate change.
“The combination of greenhouse warming and natural variability will produce unprecedented cyclones and weather activity in the coming decade in the Caribbean, so we are in for some exciting times . . . .Category 2 buildings like your homes, hotels and general office buildings must adjust for a 13 per cent increase in wind speeds to cater for climate change in the Eastern Caribbean. The category 3 and 4 buildings, which are the more important buildings in the community, such as hospitals, already cater for very strong gusts, but still we must adjust the codes by a further ten per cent,” Gibbs said.
While not going into the possible added cost, the CEP official explained that the value of such building codes were seen in Dominica where schools that were built to withstand category 5 hurricanes after the passage of Hurricane David in 1979, withstood Hurricane Maria 38 years later.