The 2023 Atlantic Hurricane Season starts today – 1 June – and will continue until 30 November.
Over the next six months, every individual, family, business and community in the Cayman Islands must take steps to be prepared, stay vigilant, and look out for one another in times of need.
We are one year closer to the twentieth anniversary of Hurricane Ivan, which devastated Grand Cayman in 2004, and later this year will mark the fifteenth anniversary of Hurricane Paloma, which severely impacted our Sister Islands.
But these so-called ‘once in a lifetime’ storms are becoming more frequent. Over the past five years, hurricanes like Harvey, Maria, Irma, Ida and Ian have wreaked havoc across our region. Even when our islands are spared a direct hit, we feel the effects on our bank accounts as insurance premiums continue to rise. And our brush with Grace in 2021 taught us that even a Tropical Storm can cause significant damage.
Being prepared is one of the most important things we can do to protect our families, friends, homes and businesses during hurricane season. As the old saying goes: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
So, if you have not already done so, now is the time to stock up on emergency supplies, and make sure you have a plan for your home or business.
If you’re new to our islands or need a reminder, the Hazard Management Cayman Islands website – caymanprepared.gov.ky – has all the information and resources you need to prepare yourself, your family, your home or business for a severe weather event.
I also encourage everyone to download the free National Emergency Notification System (NENS) mobile app. The NENS app allows Hazard Management to send emergency alerts straight to you by email, SMS text, or both. Log on to nens.gov.ky to learn more and download the app.
The NENS app is a prime example of the many, official sources of information you can safely rely on during an emergency situation.
We know how easily misinformation can spread during times of uncertainty. During a hurricane or other emergency situation, it is vital that you monitor official sources of information – such as Radio Cayman, Cayman Islands Government TV, Hazard Management, the National Weather Service, and the main Government website and social media pages.
Following Hurricane Ian, we developed a new protocol for WhatsApp voice-note messages so official messages can be shared via WhatsApp. We want to help you stay informed, especially when the situation is fluid and developing, but we need to make sure we are sharing verified updates. Misinformation, even if it is not shared intentionally, can waste time and resources, and put lives at risk.
Be vigilant, monitor official sources, and verify before you share.
Although we often think of strong winds and rain as the most significant threats during a hurricane situation, the sea can be especially treacherous. Even if your home is away from the high, crashing waves battering the coast, storm surge can cause severe, even life-threatening, flooding up to hundreds of yards inland.
It’s important to know where the nearest hurricane shelter is to your home, and have a proactive plan to evacuate if your home is at risk. As certain shelters have different guidelines for pets, for example, it is important to plan in advance.
I want to thank the many shelter volunteers who go through special training to ensure these essential facilities are able to provide safe shelter during an emergency.
I’m happy to announce that, by the time we reach peak Hurricane Season in September this year, Hazard Management is planning to have thousands of additional shelter spaces available.
I am also pleased to confirm that the Kearney Gomez Doppler Radar has been restored to full working order ahead of Hurricane Season. In addition to the radar – which allows the Weather Service and the public to monitor meteorological conditions as far as Jamaica – the Weather Service also uses the Cayman Islands Government’s GOES-R satellite system to monitor and track weather systems further afield.
The Government recognises that efforts to increase short- and medium-term readiness must be combined with longer-term measures to enhance national resilience.
Earlier this year, the Cayman Islands Government published the first Cayman Islands Climate Change Risk Assessment – the most comprehensive review of climate risks and opportunities to the Cayman Islands undertaken to date.
We cannot keep ignoring the risks of climate change to our communities, our economy, or our environment.
Based on local, regional and global data, we know that there is strong evidence for an increase in the frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones since the 1970s in the North Atlantic. And projections suggest that strong hurricanes will become more commonplace in the Caribbean.
And this is just one of the climate impacts our islands are facing. Local tide gauge data shows sea level is rising. Local rainfall data suggests fewer but more severe rain events. Local temperature data shows our islands are about 2.2 degrees Celsius hotter than forty years ago.
The anecdotal evidence confirms these data points. Based on a survey the Ministry of Sustainability & Climate Resiliency conducted last year to evaluate local knowledge, attitudes and practices towards climate change – the majority of respondents reported noticing changes to local temperatures, rain patterns, storms, coastal erosion and plant growth.
Climate change is not a distant projection, it is an ongoing reality.
As part of our efforts to ensure our country can continue to sustain future generations of Caymanians, the Government recently launched the draft Cayman Islands Climate Change Policy for public consultation.
The policy includes three over-arching goals, seven policy objectives, and more than one hundred strategies designed to help ensure vibrant communities, a thriving natural environment and a robust economy for current and future generations.
To learn more, download the draft Policy, view the full schedule of public meetings and submit your feedback, please visit gov.ky/climatechangepolicy.
At the beginning of this message, I urged you to be prepared, stay vigilant, and look out for one another.
Community creates country. And, in times of uncertainty, danger and need, we need strong, healthy and resilient communities more than ever.
So, Cayman, let’s be prepared. Let’s get our emergency supplies together, and let’s encourage our family, friends and neighbours to do the same. Let’s stay vigilant, monitoring official sources and verifying information before we pass it along. And let’s look out for one other. Do not wait until after disaster has struck to meet your neighbours, or to find out who the elderly, disabled and vulnerable in your community are.
The only way we can get through hurricane season safely is if we work together.
Thank you, and God bless these Cayman Islands.