They call it the “season within the season” – the eight weeks from Aug. 22 that is considered “the most active and dangerous time” for tropical storms, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
More precisely, NOAA names Sept. 10 as the most likely date to find a tropical storm brewing in the Atlantic Ocean.
As that peak season settles in through October, Cayman this weekend marks the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Ivan, the category 5 fury that wreaked as much – and maybe more – damage as the great, unnamed storm of 1932.
In September 2004, surges exceeding 10 feet poured across the coastline, swamping inland areas; 81 percent of Cayman’s buildings were affected and hundreds rendered unusable. Winds exceeded 150 miles per hour, the rain and roaring water knocked out utilities and stripped vegetation; roads washed away; the airport closed as walls were ripped off hangars, private planes flipped on their backs and commercial aircraft fled to Honduras or stayed away.
Police, fire and medical services were strained to the limits. Thousands of cars were abandoned, creating a disposal crisis that persists today. Uprooted coffins in East End Cemetery floated on the currents, and thousands of people evacuated their homes for government shelters. Food and water were at a premium.
This year’s “season within the season,” according to NOAA could see activity: “From mid-August through mid-October, the activity spikes, accounting for 78 percent of the tropical storm days, 87 percent of the category 1 and 2 hurricane days (on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale), and a whopping 96 percent of the major (category 3, 4 and 5) hurricane days.”
John Tibbetts, National Weather Service director general and chief meteorologist, notes there are few Atlantic Ocean threats – for now. He warns that can change in a minute.
“The peak of the hurricane season means storms are usually created faster, there are more of them and they tend to come in spurts,” he said.
Right now, he said, the NWS is watching hot winds and thunderstorms over North Africa, the engine of Atlantic hurricanes. The heated currents tumble off the Saharan cliffs, move offshore and start to rotate, “gathering a lot more energy,” he said.
“We have something forming near the Cape Verde Islands now,” he said, noting it is “not particularly strong, but it has a good chance to form into something strong.” Predictions say it will move toward Europe, but Mr. Tibbetts cautions that could quickly change.
Elsewhere, tropical Storm – and later hurricane – Hermine, which originated in the Gulf of Mexico, hit Florida on Sept. 2, moving up the East Coast. Meanwhile, Hurricane Newton, which originated in the Pacific, is affecting southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico.
As for the Gulf and the Caribbean Sea, they “are quiet for now,” Mr. Tibbetts said.
Initial forecasts for the 2016 storm season predicted 15 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes. That very few of those systems have eventuated unsettles Simon Boxall, awareness and communications officer at Hazard Management Cayman Islands.
“As we approach the peak of the hurricane season, it is important that individuals take their family, individual and business preparedness seriously … it only takes one [hurricane] to create a disaster and possibly put residents’ lives at risk,” he said.
“Protect your life. Find a safe place to stay … set aside a gallon of water for each person per day and a supply of non-perishable food to last three days. A flashlight is also useful when the lights are out,” he said.