Tomorrow is June 1, the start of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season.
It’s almost hard to believe that this dreaded six-month period that officially runs until November 30 is back so quickly, especially since this region has only barely recovered from a catastrophic 2017 season.
Even before the official start of the season, one storm – Alberto – formed last Friday and wreaked havoc in Cuba. The torrential rains in Central Cuba killed four people, damaged infrastructure, cut off communities and left more than 60,000 people without electricity.
Stories like these are the norm throughout the season and this one is not likely to be any different.
In an updated outlook released today by the Colorado State University (CSU), one of the leading forecasters, Dr Phil Klotzbach predicts a total of 14 named storms and six hurricanes, with two of those being major. Previously, CSU predicted 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes.
Still, there’s hardly any room for comfort.
While the predictions are an improvement over what actually occurred last year, when there were 17 named storms, ten hurricanes and six major hurricanes – the fifth most active season since 1851 –, the uncertainty can be nerve-racking, especially since no forecast is 100 per cent accurate and predictions can change throughout the season.
Barbados was pretty lucky last year. However, if the devastating blow that super storms Maria and Irma dealt to Caribbean neighbours didn’t shock us into taking disaster preparedness seriously, what will?
If the warnings from forecasters of late are anything to go by, we should have already come to terms with the reality that severe weather – and that is not restricted to a category 5 hurricane – can strike this island at any time.
We have been warned time and again that climate change will bring more frequent and more intense storms. And even without the grim warning, just think about the fact that a couple hours of heavy rains can spell trouble for this low-lying island.
We simply have to prepare for the worst and pray for the best.
That is why it is important for households and businesses to either start making or dust off hurricane preparation plans now, while the Atlantic is still calm.
Now is the time to make any roof repairs and other fixes needed to protect against potential high winds and heavy rains.
Hurricane kits with essentials, such as toiletries, extra medicine, non-perishable food, batteries, water and the like should be at hand.
You should also have an evacuation plan ready for your family.
Tomorrow, Director of the Department of Emergency Management Kerrie Hinds and the Deputy Director of the Barbados Meteorological Services Clairmont Williams and other officials will address Barbadians on preparations for the season.
Beyond the outlook and the usual issues they will speak to, we need to have a clear word on what we hope will be a fresh and effective approach to comprehensive disaster management.
Against the backdrop of the massive losses we witnessed in Dominica and Barbuda last year, what has Barbados done to reduce our vulnerability to storms this season? Have we clarified all issues related to a national shutdown, especially with the business community? Have our storm shelters been fully assessed? Have building codes been updated and implemented so our infrastructure can weather increasingly stronger storms? What improvements have been made in drainage? What provisions have been made for the homeless who are often left to wander and huddle on the streets when storms approach?
These are all critical issues that our authorities must tackle.
In the meantime, we are keeping our fingers crossed that Barbados is spared once again, ever mindful that it would be foolhardy to believe that God is a Bajan or that this island is hurricane-proof.
Be prepared this hurricane season.