Government organisations begin their ‘Hurricane Preparedness’ assessments in early May, before the summer storm season kicks off in the region. The Cayman Islands National Weather Service (CINWS) has warned that 2018 may be an active year, so it is important to begin your hurricane preparedness sooner, rather than later.
According to Colorado State University’s Tropical Cyclone report, the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was an extraordinarily active one, with levels of activity that were higher than predicted. They had predicted that there would be 11 named storms in 2017 but instead there were 17 and six of them were major hurricanes. Not only was the season characterized by a well above-average number of named storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes, it was also notable for the duration of hurricane days (51.25 days) and their Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) (226). The peak months of the Atlantic hurricane season are from August to October but in 2017 the most destructive time was late August through September. Two things are thought to have contributed to this: well above-average sea surface temperatures and reduced levels of vertical wind shear in the tropical Atlantic.
Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Jose were the main offenders: first there was Harvey, which dumped three or more feet of rain over Houston, causing 75 deaths. Then Irma leveled some of the Caribbean’s Leeward Islands and slashed up through Florida, killing 14 people in the Florida Keys and some 134 overall. If that wasn’t enough, Maria later hit Dominica and Puerto Rico and right behind it came Jose which eventually swung out to sea and did not cause much damage. In addition to the loss of life, the damage left in the wake of these hurricanes will probably add up to hundreds of billions of dollars. For many in the Caribbean 2017 has been the worst hurricane season in living memory. The islands worst hit by the hurricanes include the British Virgin Islands, Barbuda, St. Martin, Puerto Rico, Turks and Caicos and parts of Cuba.
We say all of this so that you take the threat of hurricanes seriously and prepare in advance. Cayman has remained relatively unscathed by 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 recovered and government agencies have done even more to improve their disaster management protocols. A very good hurricane information pack is available from Hazard Management and can be downloaded from www.caymanprepared.ky. You can also follow the helpful tips in Cayman Resident’s guide below.
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.ky).