The island's Climate Branch, which is responsible for maintaining a current database of the climate here and using this data to guide the productive sectors, has been hit by an exodus of meteorologists, already limited in number, who have been wooed by higher-paying companies.
According to head of the Climate Branch Jacqueline Spence, at least four meteorologists left the entity last year alone. She said the posts have not been filled given the ongoing government salary review for public sector workers.
"We have lost staff and now we are losing staff to sickness, people are just calling in each day sick. A lot is happening; the branch needs meteorologists," Spence told the Jamaica Observer in an interview.
Meteorologists use science and maths to understand and predict weather and climate employing data from the land, sea and atmosphere.
Housed at the Meteorological Headquarters, the Climate Branch consists of a data acquisition section that sets up and maintains an islandwide network of rainfall and climatological stations; a data processing section that gathers, archives and analyses the climatological data with a view to monitoring and assessing the climate of the island; and an applied meteorology section that processes the needs of clients, which include crop water requirements, design criteria for hydrologists and engineers, and climatological information for resolving weather-related legal and insurance issues.
In the meantime, Spence bemoaned the shortage of professionals in the area as a whole, pointing out that "it's very critical to have this kind of expertise".
"We are short because it's not an area people study because it's hard, it's really hard, no joke," she noted. She said while schools, through career day forums, have been exposing children to the profession, there is apathy even at that level .
"We attend many career days but the children say 'No, Miss, we not doing physics'," Spence said.
"Maths and physics are the two main subjects and the children are pulling away from it," she noted, while pointing out that individuals have to be trained in Barbados as the training is not offered in Jamaica. She said, while scholarships are available there is still reluctance on the part of individuals to opt for that area of study.
The Climate Branch head said less than competitive salaries contribute further to the problem.
"If you look at other met offices in other Caribbean islands, they are better paid than us and sometimes our people will go and study but they don't return. They will go to the United States and other countries," Spence told the Observer.
She said it was hoped that at the end of the public sector compensation review, which began in 2022 to overhaul the structure of salaries and other emoluments in the public service to make them more equitable, the entity will be able to retain the experts.
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