The intensity of yesterday’s weather caught many off guard. We’ve been going about our daily routines for months, enjoying beautiful, clear, blue skies with an occasional shower here and there. Many have been taking comfort in the fact that there is time, never mind how little, before the official start of the Atlantic Hurricane Season.
The level of complacency was rather evident during yesterday’s inclement weather. Bridges were clogged with debris, natural waterways were obstructed, and some parts of the island became general areas of disaster with the amount of water that came. Houses were flooded as water levels rapidly rose, making way into dwellings, wreaking havoc in households. Routines were thrown off as schools and business places closed, forcing people to switch to Plan B.
Surprise systems are nothing new. They happen each year, but what is changing is the level of intensity of these storms. And the situation is not unique to Antigua & Barbuda. Just last week, heavy rains inundated St Lucia for several days, causing widespread damage and small landslides. Last month, torrential downpours took hold of St Vincent, causing millions in damage.
According to the Colorado State University’s Hurricane Forecast for 2011 released in April, another above-average Atlantic Basin hurricane season is expected.
“We expect that anomalously warm tropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures combined with neutral tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures will contribute to an active season,” said Phil Klotzbach of the CSU Tropical Meteorology Project. “We have reduced our forecast slightly from early December due to a combination of recent ocean warming in the eastern and central tropical Pacific and recent cooling in the tropical Atlantic.
“It is recommended that all vulnerable coastal residents make the same hurricane preparations every year, regardless of how active or inactive the seasonal forecast is,” Klotzbach said. “It takes only one landfall event near you to make this an active season.”
While we can do nothing about heavy rains leading up to this eventful time, there are some measures that can be put in place to minimise the impact of surprise systems such as what passed over the weekend. Firstly, it would be in the best interest of all to be in a year-round state of preparedness. What is being prepared but ensuring that waterways are clear of brush and debris, and constructing in accordance with building codes? If these two things were done island-wide, the place would be better able to handle torrential rainfall.
Yesterday’s weather also exposed, once again, the repercussions of constructing buildings in swampy areas. Several callers to OBSERVER Radio alerted listeners to the disaster area on the road leading to English Harbour, where conditions rendered the roads impassable. The problem area was in the vicinity of wetlands that have been back-filled and constructed on. This has interfered with the natural flow of the water, which has nowhere else to go but into the yards of nearby residents and ultimately, the streets. A similar situation occurred on Sir George Walter Highway near Island Provision, where construction has wreaked havoc on the natural water passages. As the rains came down, the water levels rose, forcing traffic to roll through water more than six inches high.
By now, we’re familiar with the areas that become problematic in inclement weather. There’s that spot in All Saints, in the vicinity of the pre-school where pebbles and other debris are deposited; flooding always occurs on Tyrell’s main road, as well as in front of the Liberta Police Station. Areas in Yorks, Point, Gray’s Farm and Herberts suffer similar fates. Much of it could be prevented by removing debris fallen from trees and just keeping water passages clear.
Yesterday would have been a good day for the Public Works team to tour the island and observe what needs to be done in terms of construction work and take action before the arrival of the hurricane season. The services of the Central Board of Health are also very crucial.
But we are to expect these types of phenomena with climate change throwing the world’s weather pattern out of whack. The lesson here is you can be caught off guard outside of the hurricane season.