The mood of the public changes with every forecast for Isaac. The Atlantic storm which was predicted to pass over the Leeward Islands later this week as a hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm and there has been a communal sigh of relief. The general feeling being that we would take a tropical storm, any day, over a hurricane.
Obviously, the latter is a shared feeling but we can’t help but think that it is also a case of ‘lulling ourselves into a false sense of security’. You see, as hard as we humans try to predict the weather, Mother Nature is quite unpredictable. Need a refresher on how unpredictable? Well, cast your mind back to October 2014 and a storm named Gonzalo! We all breathed a sigh of relief when we heard, definitely, that Gonzalo would hit our shores as a tropical storm; after all, what is a puny tropical storm when we have been through so much worse? Except, Mother Nature and Gonzalo had different plans. The storm made landfall on our bit of paradise as a Category 1 hurricane and basically no one knew.
Based on scenes of the aftermath and the experience of people in past storms, it was quick surmised by many that Gonzalo was much more than a run-of-the-mill tropical storm and had to be a hurricane. But that was not the official report. In fact, the official record was not changed until a January 2014 report written by Senior Hurricane Specialist Daniel Brown from the United States National Hurricane Center (USNHC) was issued and the USHNC retroactively upgraded Gonzalo from a tropical storm to a Category 1 hurricane. So many people said, “I told you so!”
Apparently, Mother Nature decided to give Gozalo a boost just 13 miles from our shores and it caught most people off guard. It is reported that Antigua and Barbuda suffered over US $40 million in losses. What was particularly distasteful about the damage tally was the fact that we had to pay airlines for missed flights. According to Chief of Staff Lionel “Max” Hurst, at the time, “We’ve entered into a marketing agreement with one or two of the airlines and our responsibility is to make sure their flights leave here with a certain amount of people on board,” adding, “We know that in some cases, if we don’t, we have to provide a subsidy of some sort.” Go figure?!?
The storm eventually moved on and intensified, killing three people on Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy before tracking northwestward as it intensified into a major hurricane. A few days later, Gonzalo visited Bermuda as a high-end Category 2 hurricane and caused extensive damage. That was just six days after Hurricane Fay made landfall on the island as a Category 1 hurricane.
There are a lot of takeaways from Hurricane Gonzalo but for right now, the key takeaway is to ‘be prepared’. Do not lull yourself into a false sense of security thinking that Isaac is just a tropical storm heading south of us. Prepare for a hurricane because there is no guarantee that the predictions will be right. There is no guarantee that Mother Nature will not toy with us again, and upgrade Isaac just before he makes landfall. And there is no guarantee that Isaac will not take a turn to the north and decide that Antigua and Barbuda is a nicer place to visit. Prepare early and prepare well.
As is often said, pray for the best but expect the worse. And in your prayers, think of our brothers and sisters on the islands currently on the predicted track of Tropical Storm Isaac; especially Dominica. The last thing Dominica needs right now is a storm, of any kind! The island is still recovering from Category 5 Hurricane Maria which pounded the island and its residents almost one year ago. Evidence of the devastation is still visible today and any type of storm will have a serious impact on Dominica’s slow recovery. So, while the predictions are currently in our favour, know that predicting Mother Nature is not an exact science and we will all be better off if we are prepared.
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