EDITORIAL:Respect due weather forecasters
IT is hoped that reports about the damage which Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have wrought on the United States and some Caribbean islands in the case of the latter system, would reinforce the point that these weather systems are dangerous. In other words, people who continue to make flimsy comments about storms and hurricanes and vent their feelings on weather forecasters when their predictions turn out not to be accurate, would be further convinced that these systems ought not be taken lightly.
Certainly these are some of the lessons for Barbadians, many of whom continue to believe that because our island has been spared that ‘God is a Bajan’. The damage caused to Houston (Texas) and surrounding areas by Harvey has amounted to billions of dollars and chances are the figure could be similar for Irma’s damages once an assessment is done of what is happening in the United States presently.
For the tiny Caribbean islands which are susceptible to natural disasters, the devastation caused by Irma’s fury will rise to millions of dollars. These small islands lack the resources of the United States, and for them it will be a huge burden, not forgetting the cost of rebuilding, which could take years to complete. This story is well known for some of them, who have been challenged by rainfall and the resulting flooding; volcanoes; earthquakes; and as usual hurricanes, and for other islands which were not in the path of Irma but which have had similar experiences in the past.
The last Hurricane to hit Barbados directly was Janet in 1955. That left a trail of death and destruction and injury to several others. People who would have experienced Janet still talk about its fury on that fateful September 22 morning. So that when they tell you that the country has to be better prepared for those systems threatening the island, they are speaking from a background of having seen the situation and felt the fury. While there has been no direct hit since then, there have been near misses. Ivan for example, in 2005, took the identical southern path that Janet had followed only to spare Barbados, but went on to mash up Grenada. Tomas in 2010 was a Tropical Storm with winds of about 50 miles an hour, but it did cause damage to certain areas in Barbados. The significance from this is that if a system the size of Tomas can inflict damage on Barbados, what would be the fate of the country if a category three Hurricane comes our way?
As was stated and shown repeatedly in the coverage given to the passage of Harvey and Irma, forecasting them is not an exact science. Weather forecasters track the position of storms and hurricanes and give the direction on the path they are likely to take, their wind speed, the size of the systems, rainfall, and the conditions that will allow for their strengthening. In the event therefore that the systems change direction or even lose some of their strength, this should not be used to castigate the forecasters. People who were around when Janet passed our way and systems prior to 1955 did not have the benefit of the warnings that are so prevalent these days. In these situations, countries have to be prepared knowing full well that the Atlantic Hurricane Season lasts from June until November.