Government organisations begin their ‘Hurricane Preparedness’ assessments in early May, before the summer storm season kicks off in the region. According to forecasters with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, the 2020 hurricane season is expected to be above-normal.
The 2020 outlook predicts a 60% chance of an above-normal season with 13 to 19 named storms, of which 10 could become hurricanes, including 3 to 6 major 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, but Tropical Storms Arthur and Bertha briefly popped up in May 2020, marking the sixth straight year a named storm came before the season started.
2019 Hurricane Season
CNN predicted that the 2019 season would be slightly below average, and there will be 13 named storms and five major hurricanes; however, that was not the case. The 2019 hurricane season marked the fourth consecutive above-normal Atlantic hurricane season. At the end of the 2019 hurricane season, 18 named storms were formed, which included six hurricanes, three of which were major hurricanes.
The main offender of the 2019 hurricane season was Hurricane Dorian (September 1-4, 2019) that impacted Abaco and Grand Bahama, two of the 700 islands that make up the Bahamas. Hurricane Dorian strengthened to a Category 5 hurricane with sustained winds up to 185 mph as it made landfall and was moving at only 1-2 mph over the islands which caused major damage. It later weakened to a Category 2 storm as it left the Bahamas and moved towards the United States. While Abaco and Grand Bahama have a long reconstruction journey ahead of them, the rest of the Bahamas is open for business. The Government is urging people to continue visiting the Bahamas so the tourism industry isn’t adversely affected. The other major hurricanes of the season were Hurricane Humberto (Category 3) which impacted Bermuda and Hurricane Lorenzo (Category 5) which greatly affected the islands of Azores, Portugal and also impacted Ireland slightly.
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.
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.ky).
A very good hurricane information pack is available from Hazard Management and can be downloaded from www.caymanprepared.ky.