Trusting the Hurricane Forecast - JNGI

Chris Hind
General Manager
JN General Insurance Company

Jamaica escaped 2017 with some localised flooding events, although several other countries were devastated by one of the costliest hurricane seasons on record.

Dr. Philip Klotzbach, a meteorologist in the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University, predicted near-average activity at the start of the season last year.

For the season, which runs from June 1 to November 30, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had predicted a 70 percent likelihood of eleven to 17 named storms, with winds of 39 mph or higher. Of these, the U.S. government agency projected that five to nine could become hurricanes with winds of 74 mph or higher, including two to four major hurricanes.

The NOAA’s lead seasonal hurricane forecaster Gerry Bell, Ph.D, explained that the outlook reflected their expectation of a weak, or non-existent Niño; or above-average sea-surface temperatures across the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, and average or weaker-than-average vertical wind shear in that same region.

Strong El Niños and wind shear usually suppress development of Atlantic hurricanes, but the problem was that the climate models were showing a great deal of uncertainty about the outcomes.

An average hurricane season produces 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes; but, the actual outcome last year was 17 storms, of which 10 became hurricanes and six of these were major.

The National Hurricane Centre in Miami said in a statement that the 2017 season was the most active since 2005; and the 7th most active on record in the basin, behind 1933, 2005, 1893, 1926, 1995, and 2004.

Of the six major hurricanes, one of the worst, Harvey, was rated as being on par with Hurricane Katrina, as the costliest natural disaster on record in the United States, while the islands of Barbuda, Dominica and Puerto Rico were devastated by other hurricanes.

That was last year.

Discussing this year’s NOAA May predictions, Dr. Bell says they are not expecting this season to be one of the most active on record.

Indications are that 2018 will not be a repeat of 2017 and Dr. Bell added that there is also the possibility of a weak El Niño system developing later in the season, which could act to suppress hurricanes.

The NOAA predicts a 70-percent likelihood of 10 to 16 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which five to nine could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including one to four major hurricanes.

For Jamaica, this reduced risk of a repeat of 2017 should give us no solace. In fact, the NOAA offers us a 32 percent probability of a hurricane moving within 100 miles of the island. This is an increase from the 25 percent probability of such an event over the 20th century.

In these circumstances, good advice is to take precautions. Develop an emergency evacuation plan and check your property for physical or hazards that could cause damage or injury in a storm.

Ensure your roof, windows and doors are in good shape. Also, secure your valuables and insure yourself against the possibility of loss.