Government organisations and hurricane management programmes begin their ‘Hurricane Preparedness’ assessments in early May before the summer storm season kicks off in the region.
The NOAA Climate Prediction Center has forecasted that the trend of an above-average hurricane season in the Atlantic will continue for future years and according to a 2021 United Nations (UN) report, the number of super storms are expected to increase due to global warming. The UN states that “future storms are likely to come with higher average wind speeds and heavier rainfall”.
The 2021 outlook predicts that the above-average hurricane season will include 13-20 named storms, 6-10 hurricanes and 3-5 major hurricanes. Most administrations are predicting the early development of a weak storm in Q3 of 2021 - La Niña. La Niña is a phenomenon of complex weather patterns – it is the movement of hot water across the planet, which can significantly affect global weather, especially the formation of hurricanes. This means that it is important to begin your hurricane preparedness sooner, rather than later.
The hurricane season usually runs from the 1st of June to the 30th of November. As of August 2021, there has been 6 tropical storms and 2 hurricanes.
2021 Hurricane Season
NOAA predicted that 2021 would bring a 60% chance of an above-normal season, a 30% chance of a near-normal season, and a 10% chance of a below-normal season. This means that there is a 70% chance of identifying 13-20 named storms of which 6-10 could become hurricanes, of which 3-5 would become major hurricanes (Categories 3-5).
The first hurricane of the Season, Hurricane Elsa (July 1st-7th 2021), formed near the Lesser Antilles. Other countries impacted include the Dominican Republic, St. Lucia, Cuba and Florida. Elsa caused immense damages including the death of three individuals, natural gas leaks, rip currents and rough winds.
On August 18th 2021, the Cayman Islands were impacted by Hurricane Grace (August 14th-19th 2021) which was located 40 miles south-east of Grand Cayman. Thankfully, Grace was a Tropical Storm with maximum sustained winds of 65mph when it impacted Cayman, however it intensified into a hurricane shortly after leaving the jurisdiction. Damage caused by Grace includes downed power lines, uprooted trees and some structural damage.
Residents are reminded to take the threat of hurricanes seriously and prepare in advance, especially in the Cayman Islands. Cayman has remained relatively unscathed by devastating storms since the incredibly dangerous Hurricane Ivan which devastated the Cayman Islands, causing billions of dollars in infrastructural and economic damage in September 2004. Fortunately, the Islands have recovered, and government agencies have done even more to improve their disaster management protocols.
Here are a few useful tips when preparing for the hurricane:
Carefully assess your home. Start by ensuring that trees are gently pruned (if necessary), especially if they are close to power lines or water pipes. This will minimise damage to your electricity and water supply from debris and uprooted plants. Never attempt to cut branches close to power lines yourself; call CUC on Tel: (345) 949 5200 and their Customer Service Department will send a team to evaluate your property and trim any potential hazards. You should also ask your gardener or strata maintenance to remove coconuts as they become dangerous missiles in high winds and a threat to your home.
Go through the ‘Things To Do’ Checklist leading up to a storm and ensure that you turn off your main breaker and unplug appliances to prevent electrical damage from lightning and power surges. Cayman is a small, flat island so sea levels can rise during storm surge. In the event of a major hurricane (category three or above), move to at least 10ft above sea level (the storm surge during Ivan was measured at 8-10ft). If possible find higher ground to park your car and boat.
Make plans to be without power for 5–7 days, though it could be even longer. After Hurricane Ivan, it took 3–8 weeks for electricity and landline telephones and about 1–2 weeks for water supplies to be restored to most parts of Cayman. You should have an emergency supply of canned food and water that will last for at least a week. It is advised to store a gallon of water per day for each person in your house. To keep drinking water cool, store containers in dark locations. Also, having a portable radio with extra batteries on hand is very important. Radio Cayman 89.9FM is a good radio station for hurricane information and updates on how the storm is progressing, although your favourite radio station will also keep you updated.
Preparation is the key – it’s too late to install hurricane shutters or a generator during the hurricane season as parts take time to order and install. When a hurricane is imminent, it is too late to measure up and try to fit plywood shutters or to buy supply kits, as other people will be doing the same and supplies may run short. It is also too late to think about saving your personal items, important documents, filling the car gas tank and water containers or withdrawing money from the bank when a hurricane is imminent, as the water and power may be turned off 12 hours before the hurricane hits! Remember that weather conditions will turn wet and windy well before the hurricane is due to hit, so your preparations will be further hampered.
Take out enough cash to last you for a few weeks, as no one will take personal cheques after a storm, ATM machines may not work and banks could ration cash withdrawals.
Decide where you are going to stay for the duration of a hurricane well ahead of time. If your home is strong, elevated and away from the coastline, then it is probably the best place to ride out a storm. Check with neighbours ahead of time and ask about the vulnerability of the surrounding area in which you live. If you decide that it is safe to stay in your home, find the safest areas in your house and potential escape routes as well. If you determine that your property is not strong enough (or if the location in which you live makes it vulnerable) then plan to evacuate. Low-lying areas or areas prone to flooding are at particular risk.
Many people are often able to take shelter at their place of work or at a friend’s house on higher ground. Hurricane shelters are certainly an option to consider and a list of locations are available on our Hurricane Shelters page or the Cayman Prepared website (www.caymanprepared.gov.ky).
A very good hurricane information pack is available from Hazard Management and can be downloaded from www.caymanprepared.gov.ky.