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Personally Speaking: Caught Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea

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It happens almost every year that a tropical cyclone develops in the Atlantic. Caribbean Weather Forecasters are often plunged into defence mode. At issue is their "failure" to properly predict the movement of a tropical storm or hurricane.

Just last year, forecasters in Antigua and Barbuda were criticised for failing to properly predict the movement of Tropical Storm Danny. In this instance, critics noted that the local forecast predicted that Danny - which was a category 3 hurricane - would have hit the mainland Antigua as a tropical storm and would have dumped several inches of rain on the island.

"...we had it wrong again because at 4 o'clock the radio station said that the storm was passing over Antigua. Now the Met Office people are saying the storm was 70 to 80 miles to the south of Antigua. How can we be so off? We cost people a lot o' lot o' money," an irate caller to a local radio programme said.

Another upset caller said: "We rely on them for the information. You're saying they would have provided the best information based on the information before them. The point is, if it is that they need proper equipment to be able to provide the public with better information then they need to say that because this is a consistent thing."

The caller made reference to the previous October where the nation was caught off-guard when Hurricane Gonzalo hit and caused a great deal of damage and flooding in some areas.

But in an immediate response, Forecaster Orvin Paige said: "There is a collaboration that takes place. The National Hurricane Centre is the agency designated for the tracking and issuing of bulletins as it relates to tropical cyclones."

Fast forward to Monday August 1, 2016 when Jamaicans were told to brace for a hit from a strong tropical wave. The expected battering never materialised and as can be expected, Jamaicans were furious!

A leading newspaper in the United States also took the Jamaican authorities to task over their initial pronouncements regarding a weather system which later became Hurricane Earl.

"The Government of Jamaica took the unusual step of issuing a tropical storm warning before the storm was initially named," declared the Washington Post.

It did not end there.

"In my 32 years of Caribbean forecasting, I've never seen it before," the WP quoted the chief meteorologist for the NBC affiliate in Miami as saying.

But the Head of Jamaica's Meteorological Service Evan Thompson said, not so fast.

"We believe that what we did was the right thing to do given the situation as it was. It is an understanding throughout the region that sometime we are not proactive enough in the region in going forward with these warning products and it sometimes causes loss of lives. So in the interest of preventing that loss of life the Met Service needed to be proactive," Thompson said.

A member of the Jamaica Cabinet also rebuffed the critics.

"We have a responsibility to ensure that whenever the experts provide us with information that we take the necessary steps to ensure that we protect lives and property and that is what we did," Desmond McKenzie, the Minister of Local Government said.

Final Word

To the many who were left upset that they spent money to prepare for a storm that never came, remember the old saying: it's better to be safe than sorry. And to the Caribbean Weather Forecasters, take heart. Even mainstream meteorologists are often incorrect.

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