Welcome to a very active “Hurricane Season”

Whatsapp Image 2022 09 25 At 1.25.18 Am

This is the time when we in the Caribbean get extremely anxious and often fearful of the outcome of the hurricane season which usually starts as early as June and ends around November. However, nearly every year presents a few exceptions to the rule and 2022 is no different.

A warmer world makes for nastier hurricanes. Scientists say they are wetter, possess more energy and intensify faster. Their storm surges are more destructive because climate change has already made the seas rise. And, lately, the storms seem to be stalling more often and thus dumping more rain. Study after study shows that climate change in general makes hurricanes worse.

Many people think of wind when they hear the word ‘hurricane,’ but rainfall induced flooding is another significant hazard. “For example, the forecast tells you there is a 100 per cent chance of rain, but it won’t tell you about the flooding threat or what to do when there is a simultaneous threat of tornadoes and flooding”. When a hurricane strikes a community, it leaves an obvious path of destruction. As a result of high winds and water from a storm surge, homes, businesses, and crops may be destroyed or damaged, public infrastructure may also be compromised, and people may suffer injuries or loss of life.

The destruction caused by hurricanes in the Caribbean has shaped history and will shape the future of the region. The danger arises from a combination of factors that characterize tropical cyclonic storms: rise in sea level, violent winds, and heavy rainfall. In the Greater Caribbean Basin from 1960 through 1988 (excluding the United States and U.S. territories) hurricanes caused more than 20,000 deaths, affected six million people, and destroyed property worth over US$9.5 billion (OFDA, 1989). Most of this harm was done to the Caribbean island countries, whose small economies are least able to withstand such impacts. Sea level rise of only a couple of inches can make a dramatic difference in how far inland a storm surge can travel.

As expected, the economic activity most affected is agriculture. Other productive sectors such as manufacturing and exports, and tourism are also seriously affected. The coastal resources of smaller islands suffer extensive damage from hurricane forces. It is estimated that many beaches and shorelines are seriously eroded, and habitat loss can be more significant than expected. With trees and mangrove areas devastated almost immediately or over time. For example, the oyster culture and coral reefs are often damaged and almost impossible to replenish.

Hurricanes not only affect our tangible environment, but also our well-being. The health effects of these disruptions include increased respiratory and cardiovascular disease, injuries and premature deaths related to extreme weather, changes in the prevalence and geographical distribution of food- and water-borne illnesses and other infectious diseases, and threats to our mental health. The hopelessness suffered during and after a hurricane is often silent and deadly, especially when people are unable to afford basic necessities.

Emotional instability, stress reactions, anxiety, trauma, and other psychological symptoms are observed commonly after the disaster and other traumatic experiences. These psychological effects have a massive impact on the concerned individual and on communities and, sadly, there is limited remediation.

Anyone who has experienced a hurricane knows how much damage it can cause to life and property. Flooding remains one of the biggest concerns when a hurricane comes ashore, and climate change will likely make that worse. With impacts from climate change (like sea level rise) already happening, the likelihood of a billion-dollar disaster from a hurricane remains very high not just in the Caribbean but also in the West. If you live in hurricane-threatened areas, the best thing you can do is to be prepared. I hate to sound like a prepper but stocking up on extra food, clean water and basic medical supplies can’t hurt. Remember the old saying, “it’s better to be prepared than fail to prepare”.

Safe Hurricane season folks!!

Subrina Hall-Azih is a Trinidadian Educator residing in New York

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