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‘HIGHLY ACTIVE’ 2024 Hurricane Season forecast

Front Pages 23 Apr, 2024 Follow News

‘HIGHLY ACTIVE’ 2024 Hurricane Season forecast

Danielle Coleman

Danielle Coleman

By Stuart Wilson

A recent segment of ‘Cayman Conversations’, which featured Chief Meteorologist John Tibbetts and Hazard Management Director Dani Coleman focused on the 2024 Hurricane Season, which is forecasted to be one of the busiest on record.

During the sit-down with Caymanian Times Publisher Ralph Lewis, Mr. Tibbets and Mrs. Coleman spoke about what residents in Grand Cayman and the Sister Islands should be doing to prepare and why this Season’s forecast was particularly concerning.

“In 2023 we had 20 named storms, with 7 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes but the average resident in Caymanian would not have been affected.

“This can be a bit misleading for many. These storms affect such large areas that the Season can be active and since nothing ends up bothering a particular area, people wonder if there was even a hurricane season,” noted Mr. Tibbetts.

Mr. Tibbets explained that when scientists put together predictions, the first thing they look at is sea surface temperatures and noted that these are currently running between 2 and 4 degrees above normal in the Atlantic basin.

“The second component is the El Niño cycle,” he remarked, adding that, “…The prediction on that - which is tricky - is that right now we are in the process of transitioning from an El Niño cycle that was in place all of last year to a neutral phase right now.

“So there is an 85 percent chance of that being in place between April and June of this year and then there is a 60 percent chance of a full transition over to the La Niña cycle by June to August.”

According to the Cayman’s Chief Meteorologist, there is a fairly strong chance that for the ‘heart and soul’ of our hurricane season this year, we will have a  La Niña cycle. However, in any event, he said both of those possibilities produce forecasts that indicate a very active season.

The Cayman Islands gets its indicators from Colorado State about what will happen in the Atlantic Ocean.

“This year they put out their prediction on April 4th, keeping with tradition. They are calling for 23 named storms. 11 hurricanes and 5 major hurricanes for the 2024 season,” said Mr. Tibbetts.

This is the most active season they (Colorado State) have forecasted since the inception of the service in 1996.

“My experience goes back to the 80s and I don’t recall a hurricane season of this caliber,” noted Mr. Tibbets, who added that, “….we are going to be on the edge of our seats this Hurricane Season.”

According to both Mr. Tibbetts and Hazard Management Director Dani Coleman, everyone should be vigilant and make sure that they do not take anything for granted.

“Significantly increased cyclone activity is forecasted, but it only takes one storm to change our lives and our Island so it doesn’t matter if the Season is busy or not. Our preparations do not change no matter what the forecasts are because it only takes one,” noted Mrs. Coleman.

She added that preparedness is paramount.

“Know where you are going to shelter. Have your supply kit. Make sure you have what you need. Anything can happen; from earthquakes, to tsunamis and many other things that can change our lives overnight,” she exclaimed. 

Both she and Mr. Tibbetts said a part of that process should be making sure to look at relevant kits, as well as making sure persons have the medication they need, and family and pets are secured.

“Now is a great time to update your plans,” said Mrs. Coleman.

A booklet has been produced by hazard management with tips for disaster preparation, with shelter locations and maps included.

After storms, there is usually no electricity or running water and the aftermath can often times be worse than the event itself.

Employers should help their employees to find hurricane shelters and owners of businesses are encouraged to build their facilities in such a way that staff can stay there in the event of a storm, according to the experts.

“There are new facilities coming online and a new list of shelters and other important facilities is coming out later this year. We always encourage employers to look out for their staff, as well as for friends and family and the community,” said Mr. Tibbetts. 

“The average height above sea level is 7ft in Grand Cayman and though Cayman Brac is a bit higher, all of the Cayman Islands is vulnerable. Remember public shelters are not comfortable, You have to bring your own food, etc. So make sure you are making other plans and think outside the box,” he added.

Both he and Mrs. Coleman agreed that whenever we have a major storm go through the area people think they are ‘good to go’ once they have survived. However, the reality is that every time there is a storm, houses and structures are weakened.

“Get in and have your straps and rooftops checked to make sure they are all in order because disaster management personnel are not going to be able to get to you during a storm and you have to be able to survive during the time before they can get to you,” said Mr. Tibbetts and Mrs. Coleman. 

Mr. Tibbetts noted that if there is a category 3,4 or 5 hurricane, he will be quarantined to the Government Administration Building with other forecasters to collect and record information during the storm.

In terms of his family, Mr. Tibbetts’ immediate family joins him there.

“During Ivan, the center was the old fire station. My older brother was fireman.

“mother, his wife and all of my children were all there and it takes the stress off my shoulders knowing that they are there so I can concentrate on serving the people of these Islands,” he noted.

Mr. Tibbets has to look at conditions and detect tornadoes and other residual effects of the storm.

He has to step away from the disaster management side of things to appreciate the power and magnitude of what is happening.

If cayman is getting hit by a major hurricane John doesn’t sleep, as he is responsible for making sure the government is up to date.

“If we have a category 5 storm coming, once tropical force winds come, operations at the operational center at the CIAA General Aviation Terminal shuts down.

 “The staff picks up the slack. We have a tendency to try and predict things and when that transfer will occur. The person living closest to the station is the last person working, as we don’t want them driving long distances in those circumstances.,” said Mr. Tibbets.

The National Emergency Center is located at the gov administration building and rotation of staff is important, because they are also extremely ‘taxed’ during the storm.

The sacrifices that Mr. Tibbetts and Mrs. Coleman have to make during the advent of majors storms, as well as the stress levels they experience are not often appreciated and these have to be managed constantly in order to be able to keep everyone else calm and reassured.

Both civil servants noted that they try to make sure their families are ready early in the year so  they can give full attention to their jobs.

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