By John Tibbetts
Director General
Cayman Islands National Weather Service

It has already been quite a year for the Cayman Islands in terms of natural disasters.

It began with a 7.7 magnitude earthquake that rocked the Cayman Islands in January, followed by a raging fire at the George Town landfill in early March and then the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

And now, with everything going on and what we have been through this year, we must turn our attention to the hurricane season.

Please be reminded that regardless of what has happened, it does not diminish the possibility of the Cayman Islands being impacted by hurricanes.

Past season

As we start to look at the upcoming hurricane season, it is critical to glance back at the past season.

The 2019 hurricane season produced 18 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes. The season will be remembered for the significant destruction and loss of life by Hurricane Dorian, which killed at least 84 people and caused US$4.6 billion in damage, mainly in the Bahamas.

Forecast

The Cayman Islands National Weather Service has two main sources for seasonal hurricane prediction: the Colorado State University and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The Colorado State University team, led by Philip Klotzbach and Michael Bell, provides updated predictions throughout the year while NOAA’s representatives provide a forecast in May each year.

An average hurricane season produces around 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three
major hurricanes.

The Colorado State team’s April 2020 forecast for the Atlantic Basin Hurricane Season calls for a slightly above-average season with 16 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes.

The NOAA 1 June 2020 forecast for the Atlantic Basin Hurricane Season calls for above-normal season with 13 to 19 named storms, six to 10 hurricanes and three to six major hurricanes.

In terms of the factors that impact the number and strength of storms during the hurricane season, scientists at Colorado State said, “Current warm neutral ENSO (El Niño-Southern Oscillation) conditions appear likely to transition to cool neutral ENSO or potentially even weak La Niña conditions by this summer/fall.

“Sea surface temperatures averaged across the tropical Atlantic are somewhat above normal. Our Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation index is below its long-term average; however, most of the tropical Atlantic is warmer than normal. We anticipate an above-average probability for major hurricanes making landfall along the continental United States coastline and in the Caribbean.”

Hurricane season climatology

To remind all, hurricane season runs from 1 June to 30 November.

These dates are based upon long-term monthly numbers of tropical storms and hurricanes. Despite these long-term numbers, it should be noted that several systems do, in fact, form outside the normal hurricane season. For example, Tropical Storm Alberto formed in May 2018 and Tropical Storm Arlene formed in April 2017.

There are usually low numbers of hurricanes in the first half of the season, leading the public to possibly question the accuracy of the forecast. The peak of the hurricane season is considered to be around 11 September and is based on long-term numbers. The second half of the season tends to produce very powerful hurricanes, some of which form in the
western Caribbean.

The three problems with these late-season storms forming in the western Caribbean include possible short warning times, erratic paths, and potential of rapid intensification.

Examples of such storms include Hurricane Mitch 1998, Hurricane Michelle 2001, and Hurricane Paloma 2009. Residents not aware of the late-season climatology of the region may be caught preparing for a weak storm, leaving them unprepared when a major storm hits.

As a result, residents should always be prepared for the impact of a major storm, especially in the latter part of the season.

Working together

Two agencies that work closely together as part of a national early warning system are the Cayman Islands National Weather Service and Hazard Management Cayman Islands (HMCI).

The main roles of the Cayman Islands National Weather Service during the hurricane season is in monitoring the formation and progress of systems. warning the public when these systems become a threat, and providing guidance on the impacts of major storms.

HMCI has overall responsibility for the national comprehensive disaster management programme, including preparedness, response, mitigation and recovery. HMCI is also responsible for the National Emergency Operations Centre, which is activated to direct and coordinate the response to national threats.

In addition, HMCI has responsibility for maintaining the national hazard management plans for threats such as hurricanes and earthquakes.

More information

Storm and weather information from the Cayman Islands National Weather Service can be found on our website (weather.gov.ky), Facebook page and our weather app.

Our information is also relayed through most radio stations as well as the Weather Radio 107.9 FM.

Information from HMCI is on the website caymanprepared.ky. As part of the national preparedness programme, the two organisations provide public awareness on the threat of natural disasters such as hurricanes as well as up-to-date storm data specific to the Cayman Islands, once that threat exists.

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