Prepare for Gustav

Although the exact path of Tropical Storm Gustav was still uncertain Thursday, Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts urged Cayman Islands residents to prepare for any eventuality for the storm.

last minute shoppers

Last minute shoppers queue up at AL Thompsons for hurricane supplies Thursday morning. Photo: Jewel Levy

‘You want to be in your best prepared mode possible,’ Mr. Tibbetts said. ‘You want to make sure you’ve done everything physically possible to prepare for this storm.’

Gustav confounded meteorologists Wednesday after exiting the coast of Haiti by taking a turn to the south instead of travelling west-northwest as expected.

As of 1pm Thursday, the National Hurricane Center in Miami forecasted Gustav’s eye to cross Grand Cayman late Friday evening as a hurricane. The storm is expected to be going through a period of rapid intensification at the time.

Cayman Islands Chief Meteorologist John Tibbetts said the forecast called for Grand Cayman to feel tropical storm force winds starting on Friday afternoon.

‘Based on the current forecast, we should start to experience tropical storm force winds by 2:30pm tomorrow,’ he said, adding that hurricane force winds would start later in the evening.

Mr. Tibbetts said wind speeds were expected to pick up from Thursday.

‘Whenever you have a low pressure in the area, it affects the entire pressure gradient,’ he said. ‘The winds will continue to increase.’

As Gustav approaches Grand Cayman, the initial winds are expected from a northerly direction. However, the direction of the second winds depends on whether the centre of the storm passed south or north of the island. Mr. Tibbetts said if it passed south of Grand Cayman, the second winds would come from the east-southeast, as they did with Hurricane Ivan. However, if Gustav passes north of Grand Cayman, the winds would shift westerly. Expert Senior Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski said he expected Gustav to pass over or just south of Grand Cayman.

‘You guys are going to be in harms’ way pretty soon,’ he said Thursday morning.

Kottlowski said was concerned about the possible intensification of Gustav as it approached the Cayman Islands.

‘Where Gustav tracks with respect to Jamaica will have a huge impact on its strength,’ he said.

If the storm crossed the mountains north of Kingston, it could disrupt Gustav significantly; however, if it hugged the south coast of Jamaica, it could lead to a more intense storm, Kottlowski said.

‘We think it will probably track along the south coast and emerge just west of Jamaica at daybreak [Friday],’ he said. ‘The Caymans should prepare for a strong Category 1 or maybe a Category 2 as the storm passes.’

However, Kottlowski cautioned that the storm could intensify even more because of the very warm deep waters around the Cayman Islands.

Six to 12 inches of rain are expected to fall on Grand Cayman from the storm. Kottlowski said the forward speed of the storm would determine just how much rain fell. Gustav was travelling at only 5mph Thursday, but was expected to pick up forward speed after it emerged west of Jamaica.

‘The rainfall is going to be phenomenal,’ he said. ‘You should expect at least 24 hours of wind and rain as the storm moves across the region.’

Kottlowski said if the centre of the storm passed over or near Grand Cayman, it would likely bring storm surge.

‘If it passes as a Category 1, you could probably expect storm surge of four to eight feet,’ he said. ‘If it’s a Category 2, the storm surge would probably be six to 10 feet.

Sister Islands prepared

With Gustav having been forecasted as late as Wednesday evening to cross over or very near the Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, Sister Islands Commissioner Ernie Scott said most storm preparations there had been completed by Thursday morning.

‘We are in a pretty good state,’ he said. ‘When our department goes home at 1pm today, we will leave very pleased with where we are for preparedness. Perfect? No, I would be foolish and naive to say that but we’re as well prepared as we can be in my view.’

Government had been distributing plywood to residents and civil servants had been helping to shutter up houses. A decision on when shelters would be opened was due at 4pm Thursday, he said.

With the storm’s path having changed Thursday morning, officials from Faith Hospital delayed relocating to the Aston Rutty Center as they had planned but were expecting to move there Thursday evening or Friday morning.

Cayman Airways put on three extra jet flights from the Brac Wednesday afternoon and Thursday giving all tourists and residents a chance to fly away from the storm. All visitors to Little Cayman had left the island Wednesday, although it was not clear how many remained on the Brac.

Mr. Scott said there was not much officials could do to dissuade people from sheltering in caves on the Brac, as has been the tradition.

‘We couldn’t build enough Aston Rutty Centers to convince certain people to not go in the caves, so they are going to be going back there again, that’s a fact.’