We have reached the apex of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season. The catastrophic Hurricane Harvey, which is expected to be the most expensive storm in United States history, has left a path of destruction, death and flooding across Texas and the U.S.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of the storm, which devastated communities along the Gulf Coast. Many people here in the Cayman Islands have friendly or familial connections to the area, including the U.S.’s fourth-largest city Houston, and the shipping hub Port Arthur.
Immediately following Harvey, another potentially dangerous storm, named Irma, is approaching the Caribbean region, currently as a Category 3 hurricane. Irma has the time, the distance, and the warm-water conditions of the summer Atlantic to intensify dramatically.
Few in Cayman need to be reminded of how vicious a September storm that starts with the letter “I” could be. (Historically, the date of Sept. 10 is the statistical peak of hurricane season; the terrible Hurricane Ivan made landfall in Grand Cayman on Sept. 11, 2004.)
Irma is the ninth named storm of the season. On Sunday, the storm was heading toward Puerto Rico and the Lesser Antilles with maximum sustained winds of 115 miles per hour. Weather experts expect the storm to reach the eastern Caribbean sometime midweek, and the consensus among the models is that Irma will track northward toward the Bahamas and the U.S. Eastern seaboard. (Those same experts, though, concede that they cannot make accurate predictions of where, if anywhere, Irma will make landfall either in the U.S. or, more relevant to Cayman, in the Caribbean region. It is still too far away and atmospheric conditions are too volatile.
Despite improvements in hurricane forecasting, about one-third of storms still abandon their predicted path in favor of a “road less traveled.” Storm forecasting remains a very inexact “science.”
Irma may dramatically change course or live its limited life at sea, never doing any damage to any land mass. As Kerry Powery, chief meteorologist for the Cayman Islands National Weather Service, told a Compass reporter last week, Irma might even fizzle out.
So far, Cayman has been extremely fortunate this year. Our islands have not been included in the watch area for Irma established by the American National Hurricane Center in Miami. But those among us who suffered through Ivan or Paloma well know that forewarned is forearmed. The time to prepare for a hurricane is now – days or even weeks before any storm reaches our horizon.
Even visitors and new residents on island should know, after following Harvey’s destruction, that just as hurricanes can be slow to arrive, they can be equally slow to leave. After the storm finally does subside, it takes time to clear roads and restore essential services. It is important to plan accordingly (the Compass’s hurricane preparedness guide is a good place to start).
Check and replenish your emergency supplies (water, non-perishable food, flashlights, first-aid kits, etc.). Review your plans for evacuation, seeking shelter or “hunkering down.”