Standing guard in the hurricane season
FILE - Hurricane Fiona , Category 4 storm with 130 mph winds, heading towards Bermuda. (Photo: CMC)

Weather forecasting is notoriously uncertain, although there has been vast improvement in recent years because of rapidly evolving technologies.

We daresay predicting what will happen in an Atlantic hurricane season is especially daunting.

We recall last year weather forecasters gloomily predicted a very active season. Strong doubts set in when August came and went with only three named storms up to then and very little activity. But by the end of the season (November) there had been 14 named storms, including Hurricane Ian and Fiona in September.

Fiona wreaked havoc extending from Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic in the Caribbean to Canada in the northern Atlantic.

Ian, which struck south-west Florida, USA, as a Category 5 is said to have killed more than 156 people.

Forecasters appear to be hedging their bets regarding the 2023 season, which officially began Thursday. We are told there could be 12 to 17 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher). Of those, five to nine could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher).

Much uncertainty surrounds the possible effect of the weather phenomenon, El Nino, originating in the Pacific, which experts say can counter storm activity in the Atlantic. In fact, we are told El Nino could lead to devastating droughts, something Jamaicans and their Caribbean neighbours can well do without.

Whatever happens, we have to be prepared for hurricanes. Direct hits 37 years apart from Hurricane Charley in 1951 and Gilbert in 1988 have left middle-aged to older Jamaicans with no doubts about the death, devastation and hopelessness which can result. Our neighbours have suffered as badly, even worse.

Outside of direct hits, storms skirting Jamaica's coastline have caused death and long-lasting devastation: Such as Ivan in September 2004 which moved slowly — like an old man with a stick — to the south of the island, and the fast-moving Dean on a similar path in August 2007.

We note that St Elizabeth — hit hard by both Ivan and Dean — is apparently on the ball in terms of current preparation.

The Government's information arm, the Jamaica Information Service, tells us that, "St Elizabeth is ready with comprehensive plans and emergency response systems to protect life and property during the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season…" That preparedness includes 87 official shelters which "stand ready with managers to serve vulnerable communities across the parish".

All local authorities across the country should now be in the very final stages of preparations, including the securing and equipping of designated shelters, cleaning of community drains, and so forth.

We note word from Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie that electricity provider Jamaica Public Service Company is moving too slowly to clear trees and vegetation "that have developed a personal relationship" with electricity lines. He will be writing to the company about the matter, according to Mr McKenzie.

Also, Jamaicans at the individual and community level must protect themselves by clearing drains, pruning trees that may be too close for comfort, securing roofs, doors, windows, and storing non-perishable food as well as drinking water.

It's also incumbent on those who have experienced hurricanes and tropical storms to tell the younger ones about the dangers and what's needed to be done. We must never assume that they know.

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