No human can accurately predict how the forces of nature will behave at any given time. What mankind can do, though, and has been doing quite credibly over many years, is provide forecast that we all can use to guide our actions to lessen or, in some instances, prevent disaster.
The forecast for the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season issued last week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the United States has given us just that — an idea of what is possible from mother nature starting next month through to November.
According to the NOAA, the season will be more active than normal, with at least six hurricanes forecast to emerge from more than a dozen tropical storms.
The agency’s meteorologists, we are told, anticipate between 14 and 21 tropical storms, which have winds of at least 39 miles (63 kilometres) per hour. Between six and 10 of those are expected to become hurricanes with winds of at least 74 miles per hour. If the storms play out as forecast, the 2022 season will be the seventh in a row with above-normal activity, NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad is reported as saying at a news conference last Tuesday.
Urging people to prepare, Mr Spinrad said, “It’s crucial to remember that it only takes one storm to damage your home, neighbourhood, and community.”
He is, of course, correct, and his advice is to be taken seriously by every Jamaican because, as we have stressed repeatedly, Jamaica’s geographic location puts us in the path of tropical cyclones. Therefore, even if we are spared nature’s wrath, we will get rain — most times very heavy rain — at this time of the year.
The NOAA, we are told, attributes the higher-than-usual number of tropical storms expected this season to factors including La Nina weather phenomenon, above-average surface temperatures in the Atlantic and Caribbean, weaker tropical trade winds in the Atlantic, and increased monsoon rains in West Africa.
The last factor, the NOAA said, points to stronger African tropical waves, which often contribute to many of the strongest and longest-lasting hurricanes.
Given the forecast, we hope that the authorities here in Jamaica have already put in place disaster mitigation measures. Indeed, we expect that they have been making preparations for this season since the end of last year as there is no escaping the adverse weather conditions associated with the hurricane season. Actually, the best we can hope for is that none of the forecast systems will make landfall in the Caribbean and beyond. But that is a big wish.
At this time, with the season set to begin in the next three days, the authorities should ensure that vital infrastructure, such as storm drains, are clear of debris. Indeed, that should have already been in train with a sustained maintenance programme subjected to frequent inspections.
Additionally, shelters should already have been assessed and equipped with isolation areas for COVID-19 patients who may need to seek refuge.
We expect, as well, that the State will increase its public awareness programme in order to further influence behaviour change in how we plan and prepare for disasters. But most of all, it is incumbent on every single Jamaican to take personal responsibility for their safety.