Residents in Cayman were able to breathe a deep sigh of relief on Sunday, 1 Dec. as the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season officially ended.
During the 2019 season, which ran from 1 June to 30 Nov., 18 storms developed, with six going on to become hurricanes, three of which were major hurricanes.
Hurricanes, or tropical cyclones, are ranked from category 1 to 5. They develop once the ‘eye of the storm’ forms and the weather system begins to produce sustained winds of at least 74 miles per hour. A major hurricane is a category three storm or stronger, with minimum sustained winds of 111 miles per hour.
Only three systems directly impacted the Caribbean – Hurricane Dorian, Tropical Storm Karen and Tropical Storm Olga, none of which impacted Cayman.
At Category 5, Hurricane Dorian was the strongest and deadliest storm ever to hit the Bahamas. According to the Cayman Islands National Weather Service, Dorian’s maximum sustained winds peaked at 185 miles per hour.
The NWS said the September storm claimed more than 60 lives in the Bahamas, left hundreds of thousands of people homeless, and caused an estimated US$7 billion of damages.
The initial prediction of the NWS ahead of the start of the season aligned with that of Colorado State University. Both called for 13 named storms, five hurricanes and two major hurricanes. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, however, called for 15 named storms for the season, four to nine becoming hurricanes and two to four of those becoming major hurricanes.
The pre-season predictions called for a 30% probability of an average season, which according to NOAA is a season with 10.1 named storms, 5.9 hurricanes and 2.5 major hurricanes.
Although the first storm of the season, sub-tropical storm Andrea, developed in May the season got off to a slow start as the first hurricane, Barry, did not develop until July. Midway through the season forecasters updated their predictions to expect a slightly above average season.
Two massive contributing forces in the development of storm activity were the El Nino and La Nina Southern Oscillation. El Nino and La Nina (Spanish for “little boy and little girl”) refer to the heating and cooling of the tropical belt. For the Caribbean, an El Nino helps to suppress the creation of storms, while a La Nina increases the chances.
A weakening El Nino forced forecasters to rethink predictions midway through the season. A final forecast called for 45% chance of average season, and saw forecasters increasing their storm activity predictions by one.
Fortunately for residents in Cayman, the country went another year unscathed. No system impacted the Cayman Islands and no statements or warnings were issued during the season. The latest satellite imagery of the Caribbean basin shows no storm activity.
It’s been more than a decade since Cayman was struck by Hurricane Paloma, which in 2008 made landfall in Cayman Brac. The sister Island was devasted, but fortunately no lives were lost.