Stormy year ahead

US meteorological experts have predicted a stormy 2006.

Delegates at this year’s Cayman Captive Forum, produced by the Insurance Managers of the Cayman Islands held at the Westin Casuarina, heard from keynote speaker Steve Drews, meteorologist and associate vice president, Aon Impact Forecasting, that 26 named storms have been predicted for 2006, 14 of which could turn into hurricanes, and seven of those may turn into major hurricanes.

Drews said that people in the United States had thought that 2004 would be the benchmark year when it came to hurricane activity and the associated financial losses, which amounted to around US$22.5 billion, in comparison to Hurricane Andrew, which cost insurers US$20 billion.

However the 2005 season, with Hurricane Katrina’s swath of devastation cutting across the Louisiana/Mississippi coastline at the end of August, saw all previous records broken in terms of insured losses for the United States.

Drews said the preliminary figure for insured losses from Katrina was US$50 million, however the insurance experts were still in the process of gathering information in the most ravaged parts of the country and that figure could be expected to increase.

Explaining why this region appears to be entering into a particularly busy cycle of tropical storm activity, Drews said that hurricane activity had been on the increase since 1995 due to the fluctuation in the multi-decadal thermohaline circulation of the oceans’ currents.

In layman’s terms, this means that that the band of currents that joins all the earth’s oceans together in one single flow of current has been strengthening. By strengthening, the circulation of warm water to cooler water has increased.

Couple this with weak upper level winds in the atmosphere and lots of moisture and, according to Drews, you have the right ingredients for hurricanes. He also explained that this strengthening of the THC is predicted to last for around 20 to 30 years.

Drews said making the call to evacuate would always be a last resort for him. He said that he would be guided by the opinions and thoughts of other meteorological experts along with guidelines laid down for the profession in terms of predicting storm activity.

Drews said meteorologists were aware that hurricane models were only as good as the data put in them and that the experts should formulate an opinion on the direction and strength of a hurricane first, then look at what the models predict.

Many businesses in Cayman operate on invoking their evacuation plans on the assumption that within 72 hours there could be a Category 3 strike.

He also praised the Cayman Islands for the jurisdiction’s ability to recover from Hurricane Ivan and said that areas ravaged by Katrina could take decades to rebuild.

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