Monday, April 22, 2024

‘More active’ storm season

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Brace for a more active hurricane season this year than in 2017.

Leading experts from Tropical Storm Risk (TSR), a consortium of experts in tropical forecasting and insurance and risk management, are predicting “slightly above normal activity” with about 15 tropical storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

However, those same experts suggest if Barbados does get hit, it’s more likely to be impacted by a storm than a hurricane.

The two experts who authored the TSR forecast, Professor Mark Saunders and Dr Adam Lea of University College London’s Department of Space and Climate Physics, told the DAILY NATION via email that because of Barbados’ size, location and the historical frequency of adverse weather systems hitting the island, the likelihood of a direct hit from one of the seven hurricanes they predicted was possible, though unlikely.

“The best way to determine hurricane risk for Barbados is to compute the return period for hurricane-strength winds occurring within, say, 50 kilometres (km) of Barbados,” said Saunders.

He added: “According to the online tool https://coast.noaa.gov/hurricanes, three hurricanes have passed within 50 km of Barbados in the last 130 years. These events were Hurricane Allen (1980), Hurricane Janet (1955) and an unnamed hurricane (in 1886). Thus the return period for 1-min hurricane-strength winds (Category 1 hurricanes greater than or equal to 74 miles per hour) potentially impacting Barbados is approximately 40 to 50 years.

“In comparison, 28 tropical cyclones have passed within 50 km of Barbados during the same period. These include the recent events Claudette (2003), Tomas (2010) and Helene (2012). Thus the return period for 1-min tropical cyclone strength winds (greater than or equal 39 mph) impacting Barbados is about five years.

“The above is the best that you may sensibly say about anticipating Barbados’ hurricane/tropical cyclone risk,” explained the professor.

Lea was more pointed.

“Barbados was hit by Hurricane Allen in 1980, but aside from that, a hurricane landfall in Barbados is rare. It is a small target and the normal hurricane track is north of the island. During any given season, the likelihood of a direct hit from a hurricane is small but not zero,” he said.

The scientist however warned that Barbadians should not take this to mean they could be complacent.

“Ultimately it only takes one bad hurricane to ruin your life,” Lea stated.

“Whatever the seasonal forecast, people should do their normal preparations in advance of the hurricane season and during the season, be aware of the NHC [National Hurricane Centre] forecasts,” he advised.

Lea conceded that uncertainty in the seasonal forecast was high in December – when the TSR team made their prediction – and conditions could change during spring (March to June) with the development of the El Niño or La Niña climate phenomenon.

La Niña is sometimes referred to as the cold phase of a periodic variation in winds and sea surface temperatures. El Niño is the reverse.

The TSR scientists – whose team includes meteorologists, climatologists and statisticians – conceded there were uncertainties associated with long-term forecasting, but the prevailing conditions did suggest slightly above-normal hurricane activity this year.

“Trade wind speed is expected to be slightly below normal this coming summer, which is linked to expected slightly warmer than average sea temperatures in the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean Sea.

“Weaker trade winds are linked to lower vertical wind shear and lower sea level pressure, conditions which are more favourable for hurricane development,” said Lea.

The 2017 hurricane season was the costliest on record, with approximately US$281.14 billion in damage done, essentially by three major hurricanes – Harvey, Irma and Maria. Regionally, they devastated Dominica, Barbuda, St Martin/St Maarten and Puerto Rico.  (SP)

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