Storm trackers flew into Grand Cayman on Tuesday on their public awareness tour ahead of the Caribbean’s hurricane season.
The Hurricane Hunter, a U.S. Air Force WC-130J aircraft, landed with crew at Owen Roberts International Airport between stops in Honduras and Turks and Caicos. The visit is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual tour of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Hundreds of schoolchildren and members of the public were invited to tour the plane and view its weather-tracking tools used to monitor activity from Africa’s western coast to Hawaii.
As storms develop, the aircraft flies directly into the action to track development. The real-time observations by the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron support weather service forecasting with direct storm data, flight navigator Mike Anderson said.
During a weather event, the aircraft will ascend upward of 10,000 feet so that crew members can collect information from each quadrant of the storm.
“A storm mission could be anywhere from eight hours to 12 hours. They are pretty long days. Some are more bumpy than others and some aren’t so bad. But you can’t ever let your guard down,” he said.
Hurricane specialist Lixion Avila of the National Hurricane Center said planes like the Hurricane Hunter provide much needed support to computer-based prediction systems. Where computer models fall short, the Hurricane Hunter is able to collect real-time data and report back to the weather service, he said.
Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb shared new prediction tools available to the public to follow the storm season. The center’s website now includes a timing graphic for mapping the earliest hour that tropical force winds might arrive to a given location.
When forecast models indicate a threat to land, Mr. Knabb said the center will begin issuing warnings sooner, rather than waiting for a meteorologist to confirm storm criteria.
“We have to be ready to take action quickly. That’s why you have a weather service here and why we talk forecaster to forecaster,” Mr. Knabb said.
He encouraged everyone to prepare as much as possible before the hurricane season, reminding the public that both wind and water can pose safety threats.
“We all need to be focusing everyone’s attention on all of the hazards that can occur and make sure people are taking action for the water hazard and not just the wind,” he said. Cayman’s National Weather Service Director General John Tibbetts said local storm-tracking capabilities have improved vastly in recent years.
He said Cayman’s weather radar is now able to better track storm movement and improve response times. The tool is available to the public on the department’s website.
“It’s a tremendous tool,” he said.
“We’re talking about hurricanes here, but even on a daily basis, you can see heavy showers coming in (on the radar) that might affect you on your ride home.”
Hurricanes and Cayman
Cayman’s Hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, but storms can occur before and after the official season.
The 2016 season had 15 named storms, with seven hurricanes and three major storms that reached category 3 or higher. That year, Hurricane Matthew, which was the first hurricane in the Atlantic to reach Category 5 since Felix in 2007, did not hit Cayman.
The last hurricane to hit Grand Cayman was Hurricane Ivan in 2004. It was the most devastating storm to hit the islands in recent memory. In 2008, Hurricane Paloma hit Cayman Brac.
The weather service has not yet provided a forecast for the 2017 season.