Last Thursday, the 2017 trans-Atlantic hurricane season – among the most devastating in history – formally came to an end.
While it is tempting to breathe a sigh of relief, there is nothing magical in the date. We cannot afford to let our guard down. The curtain has come down but an encore performance is possible. Unusually warm sea-water means activity can still be fueled even at this late stage.
Over the course of 166 years, only six hurricanes and 17 tropical storms have ever formed after the official November 30 close to the season, according to the US Hurricane Research Division in Miami. But a December surprise could happen this year.
Such an eventuality would simply be in line with the record-breaking nature of the 2017 season. There were 17 named storms, 10 hurricanes, and six major hurricanes.
Hurricane Irma’s maximum wind speed of 185 mph made it the strongest storm ever in the Atlantic, outside the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. Irma maintained its intensity for 37 hours, longer than any other storm on the planet.
Hurricane Maria was the first Category 5 storm to hit Dominica and the strongest storm to hit Puerto Rico since 1928.
It caused such devastation that even Dominica’s prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, was left homeless.
This was also the first year that two Category 4 storms made landfall in the US: Irma and Harvey. Totals are still being worked out, but early estimates put the damage in excess of US$200 billion.
Locally, Trinidad and Tobago had major scares. Tropical Storm Brett brought flash flooding, uprooted trees, damaged houses—it was a taste of things to come. Though not associated with any hurricane activity, the extreme rainfall over the Divali holiday triggered severe flooding.
The fallout saw the head of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) forced into resignation, farmers were left reeling from lost crops, and an outbreak of leptospirosis ensued.
But natural disasters do not affect nations, they affect mankind.
So we had to do what little we could to lend a helping hand to our Caribbean neighbours. Our doors were opened to any citizens of Dominica seeking temporary refuge.
Going forward, the ODPM needs to be responsive, efficient and accountable as we navigate uncharted territory.
Already, there is talk that the 2017 hurricane season might be a harbinger of things to come. Thus far, we have been relatively lucky. But elsewhere, entire countries have been destroyed.