“PM, yuh think wi should start do something now? Open some shelter, sen out a bulletin, tell people fi board up?”
“No man, Desmond. Breeze nuh start blow yet, and only likkle rain ah fall. Wait till wi really start feel it, man. If it look like di storm surge covering the road and reaching people house, I will call Up Park Camp and ask them to send some soldiers to Portland and St Thomas same time.”
“But, PM, dem can reach in the middle ah di hurricane? By di time dem reach, people nuh wash wey aready?”
“No man, Desmond, wi mustn’t overreact. After all, look how many times wi prepare and no hurricane come. Evan seh Matthew might come, but he’s only a meteorologist; what them know about weather? And the National Hurricane Centre is in Florida, so they cyaan know what is going to happen in Jamaica.”
“Okay, I will talk to Major Davis. ODPEM must just watch Matthew a likkle longer. Dem shouldn’t move to NEOC Level 2 activation too soon. Dem cyan always prepare afta di storm.”
Sometimes it is necessary to imagine the ridiculous in order to highlight a situation.
There are some people who are angry with the government and the weather forecasters because they advised people to prepare for a possible encounter with Hurricane Matthew, and in the end Jamaica hasn’t been severely impacted. Based on the ongoing information available from meteorologists locally, regionally & internationally, Jamaica was in the cone of possible impact of the system, which on Friday night reached the level of a Category 5 hurricane, the highest strength on the Saffir-Simpson Scale.
Matthew did a number of things which the weather forecasters didn’t expect. Its rapid intensification from not even being classified as a tropical depression on Wednesday morning (Sept 28) to being a Category 5 Hurricane on Friday night (Sept 30) was completely unexpected; it was described on Jeff Master’s blog on Weather Underground as ” a jaw-dropping stretch of rapid intensification” (October 1, 2016). The path of the hurricane was also unusual and it slowed down and wobbled before it took the predicted turn to the north, which took place later than initially expected. This is a satellite image of where Hurricane Matthew was on Sunday morning, at a point when it was moving west at a forward speed of 3 mph:
Our local forecasters gave their updates based on the data available at the time and reminded that the forecast could change. Forecast accuracy has improved over time, given the advances in technology and available data, but meteorology is not an exact science.
It would have been grossly irresponsible if the government, given the information available to it, had not begun serious preparations for the possibility of a major hurricane hitting or passing close to Jamaica. Advisories had to be issued for people to prepare well in advance of projected impact.
No-one enjoys the disruption to normal routines that happens because of hurricane preparations. (Except perhaps for children who get time off from school.) People may feel frustrated, impatient, angry, anxious, frightened or any number of other emotions. Spending money on hurricane supplies when money is in short supply is frustrating and if the hurricane doesn’t materialise, the frustration may intensify. Boarding up, moving to a shelter, closing a business, worrying about family who are vulnerable are among the stressful experiences associated with preparing. But preparing is essential.
As I tweeted yesterday:And I saw this tweet by a US meteorologist today:The government will obviously need to review its actions over the past week or so, to identify any flaws in its response and what improvements can be made. Meteorologists will definitely review the data about Hurricane Matthew for years to come, seeking to understand this unpredictable storm among unpredictable storms. And all of us can review our own responses to see what lessons there are for us to learn about how best to protect ourselves and our families.
As we watch Hurricane Matthew battering Haiti and Cuba, let’s remember that we were facing that possibility and if the track had wobbled a bit to the west and Jamaica had been hit, would we have wanted to be prepared or not?