Relief at last, but has 2020 Atlantic hurricane season ended?

Relief at last, but has 2020 Atlantic hurricane season ended?

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

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One could almost hear the collective sigh of relief by Jamaicans as the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season officially ended yesterday, and not a day too soon.

While the island did not take a direct hit from the storms which came near, their outer bands wreaked havoc, mostly through angry floods that unhinged bridges; unleashed landslides that buried homes under mud; transformed roads into waterways; and left budget planners fretting about the expected multi-billion-dollar cost of rebuilding.

The hurricane season likely ranked only behind the novel coronavirus pandemic as the most devastating events of 2020, proving to be unprecedented and memorable in ways that unnerved climate change watchers.

All the major hurricane prediction centres across the world expected an active season, but none called it right — that there would be 30 named storms, considering that an average hurricane season produces 12. It was only the second time that the Greek alphabet was utilised after English names ran out.

The month of September was the most active of the season, with 10 storms formed. But, for Jamaica, their terrible impact came in October and November. Back-to-back tropical storms — Zeta and Eta — conjured up images of the floods Noah's time in some places.

The worst hit appeared to have been St Andrew East Rural, which left second-term Member of Parliament Juliet Holness almost in panic: “This is unprecedented — the volumes of landslides and breakaways we have had in a matter of days. It is very unusual,” she was quoted as telling the Miami Herald newspaper.

“We have seen nothing like this in Jamaica, and we are worried [that] with climate change we will continue to see worse and worse disasters and the impact on people's homes...

“While some continue to dispute climate change science, it is very real for us… I really pray we do not have any more systems. We cannot handle any more at this time,” she said.

But the season defied Mrs Holness's prayers, as even while Jamaicans were picking up the pieces of Zeta and Eta, a third tropical depression, named Iota, formed in the central Caribbean and headed in the general direction of Jamaica. It would be remembered for devastating Nicaragua.

Although, thank goodness, the floods have somewhat subsided, intermittent rains continue to befall some areas of Jamaica, including up to yesterday, the last day of the hurricane season — officially.

Officially, because a marked feature of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is that it began early, in May instead of the usual June, and seems set to extend beyond normal expectations, with two potent hurricanes — Eta and Iota — developing in the month of November.

The cruel irony of dealing with the double whammy of hurricanes and a pandemic is that they are mutually incompatible in that hurricanes sometimes call for evacuation and sheltering in groups, while pandemics entail physical distancing and stay-at-home restrictions.

With the hurricane season behaving as erratic as the year 2020 so far, one can't help wondering if it is really over. Let's hope it is. Whew!

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