To dream

EVERYONE has dreams growing up.

I had several when I was a younger man. One was to be a teacher and to help shape and mould new generations of thinkers, possibly do research to shed light on aspects of Barbadian and Caribbean history, to help future generations understand the contributions of their ancestors to the Barbados which they enjoy now and will continue to enjoy in the future. It all fell into the hope to show people that Barbados did not just emerge in 2018, we have a history which explains the actions of many who occupy key positions in this country. More on that later.

One of the most recent dreams which I had was to be a meteorologist. Defined as someone who is an expert in or has specialised education who makes use of scientific principles to make sense of the earth’s atmospheric realities and can project through use of radar and satellite imagery what our weather can look like, days in advance. It is a thankless job, which has been occasioned by a complacent public in this country, since Barbados has been spared the recent ravages of a direct hit from a powerful Atlantic hurricane since Hurricane Janet in 1955.

Some people seem to forget that the job is based on projections which use computer generated information on Low pressure systems, which are the basis of tropical waves, depressions, storms and hurricanes. If a system slows down or is impacted by another similar or stronger low pressure system, it can be weakened or strengthened, as changes in pressure gradients can determine if it is windier today or totally calm with oppressive heat.

Those who practice the art or meteorology can find themselves the butt of jokes and other ridicule. One comedian told a joke at a recent Pic-O-De-Crop finals, that if a certain meteorologist told you it would be sunny, then you should walk with an umbrella. That drew laughter from the crowd, but years later, when this island felt the brunt of Hurricanes Harvey and Maria, that snickering turned to silent focused attention on the words and forecasts coming from the MET Office, which was extremely accurate in its forecast. They consistently told Barbadians to be prepared and that the systems would pass to the north of the island. They stressed that the projections focused on the low pressure centres of these storms and that depending on the quadrant of the storms as they pass the island, can determine the intensity of the weather that we face.

In both cases, barring a few isolated wind damage, this island got doused. I hope that people realise that two seasons in a row, we faced Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and the aforementioned Hurricanes Harvey and Maria in 2017. These systems have inched closer, coming across the island, south of 12 degrees north and then veered west north-westward just before they reached this island, as rotation from a strengthening low pressure base, plus a strong Atlantic High pressure system moves these systems in that direction, close to the north-east coast of Barbados and into the Windward Islands.

What disturbs me is the rise in arm-chair weather people. Recently, this island had its first brush with a weather system for the 2018 season. Hurricane Beryl was originally forecast to intensify, then approach the Lesser Antilles, before degenerating into an open wave of low pressure, before it impacted the region, due to wind sheer and dry air in the upper atmosphere. No doubt the dense African dust which has caused major sinus issues, ripped the system apart.

Despite this, some rushed to the NOAA website and watched the satellite and radar composite imagery and sought to second guess the experts here at our MET Office. The comments on Facebook, starting with the refrain that they are not being told enough and why does the information not have the same detail as they can see on the major US networks began. A word of caution, the US networks will pay attention, if the storms have the potential to impact the US mainland or territories. So they tend to focus on long-range forecasts, five days out and on models which point to a lesser impact for their interests. We heard about the radar in Castle Grant not functioning, which is a legitimate question. Whoever is the Minister responsible (who knows right now) should tell the public what is the status of that radar.

There is a lesson there for local MET officials. In a case where the public is disturbed, related to approaching systems, the creation of an online uplink of regular on camera press statements, for each update can alleviate these concerns. A seemingly disinterested person simply reading the advisory is not enough. The public has a right to demand more available information, such as what could impact the systems and what could be the potential impacts according to parishes. It might sound like mundane information, but to nervous citizens, we should always remember that more not less information is important.

Therefore, I still watch weather reports, locally and internationally throughout the hurricane season as it fascinates me to watch how weather impacts our lives. Drought threatens food supplies and water levels, while too much rain causes flooding and hampers crops. It is a balance which must be struck and appreciated and I find that Barbadians do not appreciate how lucky we have it here related to weather and are in a dream if they conclude that this island is immune.

Barbados Advocate

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