The average temperature in the Cayman Islands has risen steadily for the past four years due to the effects of global climate change, according to National Weather Service Director John Tibbetts. He said annual average temperatures have risen 1.2 degrees over the past four years, and he expects the trend of warmer weather and less rain to continue in the years to come.
Over the past 30 years, the average annual temperature rose from about 80 degrees Fahrenheit in 1985 to 82.9 degrees last year. Mr. Tibbetts said the temperature trend is following the model forecasters use to predict the impacts of global climate change on the weather in Cayman.
“We will get warmer and drier,” the Weather Service director said in an interview this week, and the changes to Cayman’s climate could have far-reaching effects on the islands.
In an email, he listed a number of potential impacts. Higher temperatures will have repercussions for sporting events and on the elderly, Mr. Tibbetts noted, and people will have higher electric bills from having to run their air conditioning more.
The higher temperatures, he said, would cause heat stress on plants and outdoor animals. The effects of increased temperatures on plants and agriculture would combine with less rainfall to make the impacts worse. Lower rainfall, Mr. Tibbetts added, would also have consequences for Cayman’s drinking water supply.
In a follow-up email, Mr. Tibbetts wrote, “Don’t forget sea level rise which will make impact of storms more significant.”
Climate action in Cayman
Last month, leaders from around the world gathered in Paris for a climate change summit, and came to an agreement for urgent action to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, seen as a threshold before irreversible damage would be done to the environment.
Based on the United Kingdom’s participation in the summit, the Cayman government is now planning a review of its energy and climate change policies.
Department of Environment Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie said last week, “To date, actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change have not been a focus of national policy. This will need to change if we are to make any meaningful progress on the issues surrounding climate change.”
The 2011 climate change policy warns of losing coral reefs, erosion along the coasts, and higher energy costs.
Corals in Cayman and around the world faced a mass bleaching event in the past year due to an El Nino event warming the waters in the Pacific. Late last year, Mark Eakin, with the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, warned that coral reefs will be in danger as ocean temperatures continue to rise: “The coral bleaching and disease, brought on by climate change and coupled with events like the current El Nino, are the largest and most pervasive threats to coral reefs around the world.”
The warming oceans and bleaching in Cayman’s corals were no surprise to the Department of Environment’s Tim Austin. With the continuing trends in the Caribbean climate, he said, “This will happen more and more every year.”
Weather Service plans more climate forecasts
Looking at more than 50 years of data on temperature and rainfall, there are clear trends of increasing temperatures and decreasing rainfall.
“The long-term prognosis, we will get warmer and drier,” Mr. Tibbetts said. He said his role at the Weather Service is to track and predict what is happening, not why it is happening. But to better prepare for a changing climate, he said, the Weather Service is planning to “work more about the climate into what the Weather Service does.”
With more climate predictions, forecasters in Cayman will work with regional partners to do long-range forecasting and look three to six months out to examine larger weather patterns and how they will impact the Cayman Islands.
A forecast through the Caribbean Climate Outlook Forum, which includes Cayman’s Weather Service, predicts the first six months of this year will be warmer but have more rain than the 30-year average.
The forecast does not say how hot it will get or how much rain the islands will have, but it looks at weather patterns to estimate what will happen with the weather months in advance.