By John Tibbetts, director general, Cayman Islands National Weather Service
As we approach the 2017 hurricane season we take note of the very unusual period of heavy showers in the month of April and the presence of Post-Tropical Cyclone Arlene in a month that rarely experiences such systems. We are reminded that nature does not always play by rules but in fact makes its own rules.
With this in mind we are all reminded that we are rapidly approaching the start of the Atlantic basin Hurricane season that runs from June 1 until Nov. 30. The team from Colorado State that has been the standard in providing seasonal hurricane predictions is anticipating that the 2017 Atlantic basin hurricane season will have slightly below-average activity.
The April 6, 2017 forecast by Phil Klotzbach and Michael Bell of Colorado State University’s Tropical Cyclone Project, calls for 11 named storms, of which four are expected to become hurricanes and two major hurricanes, i.e. with winds 111 mph or higher. By comparison, the average hurricane season would be 12 named storms, around six hurricanes and two major hurricanes.
This forecast is based on an extended-range early April statistical prediction scheme that was developed using 29 years of past data. There is the potential for shear-enhancing El Niño conditions to develop over the next several months. The tropical Atlantic has cooled over the past month, and the far North Atlantic is currently colder than normal. These cold anomalies tend to force atmospheric conditions that are less conducive for Atlantic hurricane formation and intensification.
Despite the 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 take the time to evaluate their own level of preparedness and create or amend their own hurricane plans. Doing this 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 and to that regard, I would encourage residents to pay attention to news media and especially the local media as it will be utilised by the Cayman Islands National Weather Service and Hazard Management Cayman Islands to distribute the forecast of local impacts of the storm or hurricane along with other relevant local information.
While the people of the Cayman Islands have in our recent memories been blessed with a few years of low hurricane activity, we cannot afford to take any season for granted. In keeping with this, the 2016 season had low activity across the Atlantic, and the Cayman Islands were spared the impacts of such systems. Others were not as lucky, as Hurricane Matthew in particular produced significant damage and loss of life. The hurricane names of Matthew and Otto were retired due to the significant damage and loss of life produced by them.
We must remember Hurricane Paloma that devastated Cayman Brac in 2008, the devastation of Grand Cayman by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and the 1932 Hurricane that killed 109 people, in order to realise how truly dangerous these hurricanes can be.
The CINWS maintains an excellent collaborative relationship with the National Hurricane Center in Miami Florida and we appreciate the significant work being carried out by this centre, as well as the advances that have been made in hurricane tracking. This collaboration resulted in the recent visit of the Hurricane Hunter to Grand Cayman. The dedicated staff of the CINWS, armed with advanced meteorological equipment such as the Weather Radar, stands ready to provide public warnings and advisories in the event of any threat from tropical systems, detailing local impacts based on the latest storm predictions issued by the NHC.
I urge residents to pay particular attention to information provided by the Cayman Islands National Weather Service and Hazard Management Cayman Islands as well as the local media for the latest accurate information on storms and its potential impacts tailored for the Cayman Islands. These sources of information include Weather Radio 107.9 FM, weather.gov.ky, and caymanprepared.ky.