We are hours away from the start of Atlantic hurricane season.
And after last year, Barbadians should already be prepared, not prepare.
On June 15, an extreme weather event hit the island with violent lightning, thunderstorms and heavy rain, leaving a trail of damage in its wake.
Weeks later, Tropical Storm Elsa made landfall here as a Category 1 hurricane, hitting the island with 74-mile-per-hour winds that blew the roofs off homes, uprooted trees and caused widespread flooding.
We will have to pray that 2022 spares us another freak storm or Hurricane Elsa, but so far the forecast has been clear: we need to be prepared for any eventuality.
According to respected researchers at Colorado State University, this will be an above-average hurricane season for the seventh straight year.
The CSU forecast calls for 19 named storms, nine of which could become hurricanes with winds of at least minus 74 miles per hour. Of those, four could be major, Category 3 or higher, with winds of at least 111 miles per hour.
That’s well above the 30-year average, experts say. They explain that on a long-term average, a hurricane season normally brings 14 named storms, seven hurricanes, three of which become major intensities.
This above normal activity is fueled by a prolonged La Niña phenomenon.
Deputy Director of Barbados Meteorological Services Brian Murray has warned Barbadians to be vigilant this season.
He said: “According to our forecast, it will be active like last year, so you cannot let your guard down as thunderstorms and hurricanes may occur in the short term.
“Active means you can expect more thunderstorms, more frequent rain events like tropical waves, you’ll probably have a few more disturbances and wind events and that’s what being active means.”
Adrian Trotman, Head of Applied Meteorology and Climatology at the Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH) based in Barbados, urged: “Governments, sectors, communities and other interests should prepare the implications of conditions expected during the 2022 rainy/hurricane season. such as flooding and cascading hazards, above-average frequency of tropical cyclones, a decrease in the frequency of dry spells, and peaks of extreme heat between August and October (but not as strong as recent years.)”
The good news, however, is that BMS has improved its weather radar to provide better forecasts of storm formation and also to detect upcoming high winds similar to the freak storm.
In light of the forecasts, the authorities have already introduced disaster mitigation measures. Home Secretary Wilfred Abrahams and Department of Emergency Management Director Kerrie Hinds and MET office staff are expected to brief the nation on those plans on Wednesday.
We expect by now the drains have been cleared of debris and we have seen work crews across the island. Shelters must have been assessed and equipped with all necessary equipment.
Above all, however, it is imperative that all Barbadians take their personal responsibility for safety and security seriously.
Now is the time to determine the risk, whether you are prone to flooding, whether your roof can withstand high winds, which windows need to be boarded up, or whether you need sandbags to keep flood water out.
The focus should be on protecting the home. Trees need to be pruned so they won’t be a problem later. Loose exterior objects should be put away. There should also be a map showing where the vehicles/bikes will go.
We urge you to gather your supplies in case of a disaster: food and water, medicine, power supply and recharging materials for appliances, gas and cash, as electricity and use of debit cards may be unavailable.
Check your insurance coverage. Protect your police documents should an evacuation be necessary.
Help your neighbor, especially the elderly, the disabled and the most vulnerable people around you. Also, make sure they have a preparation checklist. Exchange your contact details in the event of a storm.
Develop an evacuation plan. Know the route, which roads could be covered by flood waters. Pay attention to media reports of evacuation orders. And don’t forget to bring pets.
We don’t know how hurricane season will affect us, but as climate change brings more intense storms and hurricanes, we had the new experience of the first direct hit from a hurricane in 66 years. There are houses that still need to be fully restored after last year’s cyclone as this season begins. Pray that we don’t have to learn the lesson of preparation the hard way again.