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The Tropics are on Fire

By Ralph Lewis


September 11Th is not only the day that the world will reflect on the largest terrorist act to reach American shores. It is also the peak of the annual hurricane season when tropical system activity is expected to be the highest.

This year is no exception and right on cue we are currently experiencing tremendous cyclone upheavals not only in the Atlantic basin but also in the Pacific Region.

According to the Weather Channel, Hurricane Florence, on Monday morning had become a Strong Category 3 Hurricane in the Open Atlantic and advised that interests in Bermuda and Along U.S. East Coast should monitor this hurricane closely.

Also in the Atlantic, Hurricane Isaac and Helene have developed, with both storms forecasted to strengthen. Isaac is forecasted to remain on a westerly track which carry it into the Central Caribbean by this weekend, which may be a concern for the Cayman Islands

Here in the Cayman Islands in 2004 we had our own September monster.


Hurricane Ivan

Hurricane Ivan was a "classical" long lived Cape Verde hurricane. It has been categorized as one of the most powerful hurricanes to hit the Caribbean in recorded history. On September 2 Ivan developed into a tropical depression, it became a tropical storm on the following day and reached hurricane status on 5 September. On September 7 and 8 it damaged 90 percent of the homes in Grenada and killed 16 people. By Thursday morning on September 9, Ivan's sustained winds reached 160 mph making it a rare category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale. On September 11 Ivan began affecting the Sister islands of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman with tropical storm winds and Grand Cayman began experiencing tropical storm winds later that afternoon. According to information from the National Weather Service the centre of Ivan was located 113 miles SE of Grand Cayman by 10 pm, and at that time hurricane force winds of over 100 miles per hour were already being experienced on the island. At 5am on Sunday the storm surge from the North Sound was peaking at 10 feet (National Weather Service).

The hurricane made its closest approach at 10 am on Sunday when the eye passed 21 miles SW of the Grand Cayman with winds of 150 mph and gusts of 220 mph. As the storm continued on its track, storm surge and battering waves heavily affected the south coast of Grand Cayman. Ivan was a slow moving hurricane which increased the exposure of the Island to hurricane force winds as well as increased the total amount of rain.

Consequences of Hurricane Ivan (pictures courtesy Deep Blue

Hurricane Ivan took the lives of two persons on Grand Cayman and it temporarily displaced significant proportions of the population. All persons experienced the loss of electricity, water and access to telecommunications for some period immediately following the disaster. The three most affected districts were George Town, Bodden Town and East End. Together these three districts account for 75% of the total population on Grand Cayman. 402 people were treated for lacerations, wounds, removal of foreign bodies, fractures and burns as a result of the disaster. However, the general health and wellbeing of the population was good and was well maintained by dedicated health care professionals, first responders and the kindness of neighbours.

The total economic impact to the Cayman Islands was estimated by the United Nations ECLAC team to be 3.4 billion (183 % of GDP). Approximately 83% or 13,535 units of the total housing stock in the Grand Cayman suffered some degree of damage. Dwellings which were situated on the sea shore, in low lying, or swampy areas suffered the most severe damage. Older and less well constructed housing was also severely affected.

Four per cent (4%) of homes that were affected were so severely damaged that they required complete reconstruction. 70%, or 9, 475, dwellings suffered severe damage which resulted from sea surge or damage caused by winds to roofs, windows and doors. The remaining 26% or 3,519 dwellings, suffered minor damage caused by partial roof removal, low levels of water inundation, or flying roofs and floating objects such as containers. The total financial effect on the housing sector was estimated at CI$1,444,868,244. (1.4 billion) The financial effect on the finance (commerce) and tourism sectors were estimated at around CI$ 460 million each.

Even as we write this article the National Hurricane Center (NOAA) advises that disorganized showers and thunderstorms over the northwestern Caribbean Sea and western Cuba are associated with a weak surface trough. The disturbance is forecast to move slowly northwestward across the northwestern Caribbean Sea and the Yucatan Peninsula over the next couple of days with only slow development expected during that time. However, upper-level winds are forecast to become more conducive, and a tropical depression could form late this week when the system moves across the western Gulf of Mexico.

• Formation chance through 48 hours...low...10 percent.

• Formation chance through 5 days...medium...40 percent


Hurricane Isaac

Experts have forecasted the anticipated that the track of Isaac will put the Lesser Antilles in line for possible impacts this week.

“There is a growing consensus that this system could threaten the Lesser Antilles during the middle or latter part of the week,” AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski said.

Environmental conditions across the Atlantic will be favorable for Isaac to maintain its hurricane status as it tracks westward.

Regardless of strength, seas will become rough and dangerous for bathers and boaters along the east-facing portions of the islands as early as Wednesday.

Rain and wind would also increase during the second half of the week on the projected path of Isaac.

The current track of Isaac will take it south of the areas that bore the brunt of Irma's wrath last year.

Living in the Cayman Islands has its share of risk in relation to natural disaster and residents and visitors should be aware of the annual hurricane season that runs from June to November. Living in paradise is still envied by many who visit our shores and still remains the preferred territory to reside. There is no need to panic over the notion that a tropical system may arrive at these shores. The key to surviving these tropical systems is embedded in the scout’s motto. Always “be Prepared”.

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