Region braces for active hurricane season amid COVID pandemic

BRIDGETOWN, BARBADOS (CMC) — The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season began yesterday with above-normal predictions, while the Caribbean yet deals with the effects of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) that has killed 372,000 and infected another 6.5 million worldwide.

“The COVID-19 pandemic, with its requirements for social distancing and stay-home measures, as well as the additional burden it has placed on health infrastructure, means that the forthcoming hurricane season will be especially challenging. It also means that the need for reliable forecasts with longer lead time and coordination disaster management plans are more important than ever before,” the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has warned.

The US-based NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is predicting that there will be a 60 per cent chance of an above-normal season, a 30 per cent chance of a near-normal season, and only a 10 per cent chance of a below-normal season. The Atlantic hurricane season runs until November 30.

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a likely range of 13 to 19 named storms, of which six to 10 could become hurricanes with winds of 119 km/h (74 mph) or higher, including three to six major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5, with winds of 178 km/h (111 mph) or higher).

An average hurricane season produces 12 named storms, of which six become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.

The Caribbean Meteorological Organization (CMO) is also urging the region to carefully watch the season.

“Each year storm surge, flooding, extreme winds, tornadoes and lightning associated with hurricanes and tropical cyclones causes destruction and loss of life.

“For instance, in 2019 Category 5 Hurricane Dorian hit The Bahamas as the strongest hurricane on record, bringing massive devastation and many casualties,” it recalled.

Dominica, which was among Caribbean countries hit by Hurricane Maria, is also urging residents to take all precautions.

Acting Senior Meteorological Officer Marshall Alexander noted that consistent with the past five years, there were at least two tropical storms before the official start of the 2020 hurricane season.

“With the hurricane season upon us the nation is also dealing with a health and physical safety situation…posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Residents must continue to follow the safety protocols [and], as always, the key message is to be prepared,” he added.

Weather officials said the combination of several climate factors is driving the strong likelihood for above-normal activity in the Atlantic this year.

They said there is unlikely to be an El Nio event, which typically suppresses hurricane activity.

Also, warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, coupled with reduced vertical wind shear, weaker tropical Atlantic trade winds, and an enhanced West African monsoon, all increase the likelihood for an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season. Similar conditions have been producing more active seasons since the current high-activity era began in 1995.

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