Editorial: Bret should be a warning

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Every year, the Atlantic, including a large portion of Caribbean nations, goes through a ritual. It is called the Hurricane Season.  And every year, people pay lip service to the warnings from organisations like our National Office of Disaster Services (NODS) or the United States based National Hurricane Center (which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)).  For some people, weather news is like white noise; to the point where they have lulled themselves into a false sense of security and simply ignore the wise advice to “be prepared”.
The hurricane season officially begins on June 1st every year and runs through November.  During this time, people should be well prepared to protect their lives and their property from harm.   As much as the hurricane season is a ritual, there is another one that accompanies it.  That one is the ritual panic that accompanies every severe storm to come our way.  Admittedly, we have gotten better, after having gone through a spate of hurricanes in the nineties, but the lack of serious storm activity in the last few years has begun to lull us back into a false sense of security.
Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) has fallen into the trap of that peaceful lull but they got a wake-up call recently from Tropical Storm Bret. Trinbagonians have always boasted of their location outside of the hurricane zone and of their safety from severe weather, and while that is a relatively accurate position, there are always exceptions to the rule.
Anybody from ‘up the islands’, that has been through a serious hurricane, and has visited T&T, marvels at the various forms of housing that are perched precariously on the hillsides or are built near rivers.  Antiguans would exclaim “Tall, not me!” as they drive by houses on the verge of slipping off a hill with rusted roofs held down by cement blocks, adding, “Dey lucky dey doh hav hurricane round yah!”
Bret was not a hurricane but it did cause widespread flooding in the south of Trinidad.  Luckily there were no reports of any injuries or fatalities.  But, as the country cleans up after Bret, hindsight has become very popular with many Trinidadians admitting that they were not prepared “for dat”.
There are many lessons to be learned from this rare direct hit to Trinidad for Trinbagonians but there is also a very important lesson for us here in Antigua & Barbuda.  Be prepared!  Trinidad and Tobago may be outside the active hurricane zone but we are not – it is one of the prices that we pay to live in this paradise.
We are not yet one month into the season but everyone should be aware that scientists have predicted that 2017 is going to very active.  A story on weather.com stated, “The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season is forecast to be more active than historical averages with regard to the number of named storms, according to the latest forecasts released by Colorado State University, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and The Weather Company, an IBM Business.”
According to the story, “The 30-year historical average (1981-2010) for the Atlantic Basin is 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.” “NOAA issued its forecast at the end of May and called for:  Eleven to 17 named storms – including April’s Tropical Storm Arlene.  Five to nine of which would become hurricanes.  Two to four of which would become major hurricanes.”
Many people do not pay attention to this type of news but they should.  Being prepared is sometimes the difference between catastrophic damage and minor repairs, or worse, life and death.   Just as in Trinidad, there are many Antiguans, who reflect after the storm on their lack of preparation and curse themselves for being so lax.
Bret and Arlene should be warnings for everyone. Tropical Storm Arlene was only the second April tropical storm recorded in the era of satellites.  Bret was an early storm that went south and is one, of less than ten, to hit Trinidad directly in the modern era (going back to the early 1900s).  Fortunately, Arlene was shy and stayed far from land and Bret delivered mostly rain but the next one could be much different.
If you have never experienced a major hurricane, thank your lucky stars.   Don’t ever think that it is one of those things you want to experience at least once in your lifetime because when your roof is gone, along with all of your possessions, and everything that is left is wet, hindsight will tell you that hurricanes should not be on anyone’s bucket list.
Having said all of that, our message can be distilled to just five words: be smart and be prepared!

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