#BTEditorial – Looking back at one of the worst hurricane seasons on record

Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean are naturally breathing a collective sigh of relief, following the end last Thursday of an exceptionally active 2017 hurricane season that has left a trail of death and destruction across the region.

Estimates from various sources suggest it will take billions of dollars and several years to repair the damage which nature, in a frightening display of its fury, unleashed on a helpless region.

For us in Barbados, we have been fortunately spared yet again from a direct hit by a major system, making it the 62nd consecutive year since the unwelcome visit of Hurricane Janet on September 22, 1955 that caused 38 deaths and an estimated US$5 million in damage to houses and other infrastructure. Two generations of Barbadians have grown up not knowing what it is like to experience the frightening wrath of a hurricane. It is indeed a blessing and cause for thanksgiving, but it should not lead us foolishly to believe that we are somehow more divinely favoured and the other islands are not. Our luck is unlikely to last forever.

So, as we in Barbados give thanks for our good fortune, we should simultaneously spare a prayerful thought for our neighbours in Dominica, Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, St Maarten, Puerto Rico and the Antigua sister island of Barbuda who were not so lucky and now face the daunting task of picking up the pieces of lives shattered by the monster category 5 hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Estimates of damage run into billions of dollars and life in most of the affected islands will take several years before full restoration to what it used to be. As they rebuild, let us continue to extend a helping hand in any way we can, despite our own challenges.

The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season which began on June 1, produced 17 named storms, ten of which became hurricanes, including six major hurricanes of category 3, 4 or 5 strength.

The United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which operates the Miami-based National Hurricane Centre, says based on the Accumulated Cyclone Energy index, which measures the combined intensity and duration of the storms during the season and is used to classify the strength of the entire hurricane season, 2017 was the seventh most active season in the historical record, dating back to 1851 and was the most active season since 2005.

“This was a hurricane season that wouldn’t quit,” said acting NOAA administrator, retired Navy Rear Admiral Timothy Gallaudet.

“The season started early with a storm in April and the peak of the season featured an onslaught of ten successive hurricanes.

“In six short months, the next hurricane season will be upon us. This is a good time to review and strengthen your preparedness plans at home as we continue to build a Weather-Ready Nation,” he added.

It is a piece of advice which we in Barbados would do well to heed, rather than bask in complacency. Climate change, stemming from global warming, has been identified as a major contributing factor to the increasing intensity of hurricane systems.

Climate change has been played down within the corridors of the new power structure in Washington, but since parts of the US, quite ironically, also took a devastating hit from this year’s deadly hurricanes, hopefully it will serve as a wake-up call that the issue is certainly not a figment of the imagination of scientists but very real based on growing evidence.

Paying attention to lessons that can be drawn from this year’s experience, we have an opportunity, provided by the respite of the next six months before the 2018 season begins on June 1, to assess our overall state of readiness in a more serious fashion and to make any changes considered necessary, including possible reinforcement of key buildings which clearly would not have been able to withstand the onslaught of the category 5 hurricane winds.

On the whole, we need to take the issue of hurricane preparedness much more seriously because our long run of good luck will one day run out. We do not know when that will be and while we have no control over the forces of nature, the best we can do to safeguard life and property is to be prepared as best as we can. Pursuing this approach is a far better choice than being caught off guard with our vulnerability fully exposed.

2 Responses to #BTEditorial – Looking back at one of the worst hurricane seasons on record

  1. Lee December 6, 2017 at 9:37 am

    That a tropical hurricane or a tsunami will hit Barbados (again) some day is a certainty. It will set back our physical infrastructural development many years, but the concomitant loss of human capital is also going to impact our recovery. The effect
    of a natural disaster on a service industry based economy is almost unthinkable. That’s probably why we seem to prefer to stay in denial and prioritize all other “conversations” above this one !! A nationwide project to mitigate disaster and prepare the island for quick recovery will not only unite Barbadians and lovers of Barbados everywhere, but will justify our investment an eminently exportable industrial expertise. We can look at the Cuban model for guidance. That island’s resilience to disaster and health crises is just amazing. Disaster preparedness is the centerpiece of the Green Economy. We need to stop arguing about history and prepare for the future.

    Reply
  2. Tony Webster December 6, 2017 at 3:27 pm

    Whatever happened to our National Building Code? I recall it was created with our best engineering brains (experienced private sector engineers mostly), but lukewarm support from administrations have never made it mandatory. At least, one should expect insurance companies , and morthage providers, to offer firmer support for voluntary compliance, by adjusting rates for coverage, and mortgage interest, in consonance with compliance.

    Mind you, many Bajans right now, buying groceries from Popular, Price Lo, and So Low…because of ” circumstances”.

    We have much work to do.

    Reply

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