By Rudy Dovale
Every system that has engulfed this area has left lessons to learn. One lesson is to let the world “outside know how we are doing, what we have done in terms of safety and level of comfort.” It is somewhat confusing, when we talk about the eye of a hurricane passing “over us or over the region.” Before we can find ourselves inside an eye of a storm, a quiet area when one can hear people talking far away, we have to go through the eye-wall. Lessons have taught us that we first experience the eye-wall, when all hell breaks loose, followed by the eye of the system and then another eye-wall experience. Going through an eye-wall is no walk in the park, no haphazard experience and, to use a daily expression, no easy thing.
The eye of TS Rafael was created by a weak circulation with very little thunderstorm activity. Thus storm chasers established a reference whereby the track could be established and watches and warnings could be announced for the sake of public safety, surface traffic and for aviation purposes. Usually, when a system follows a track that is relatively smooth without too many deviations, what we track on a map is a pretty straight line with curves indicating change in direction.
Rafael was very erratic and this is where problems can surface. The brunt of foul weather conditions remains east of the eye most of the time. TS Rafael joined many other storms or hurricanes that gave us a song and dance routine. When that happens, the eye and the brunt of the systems go along with the dance routine.
Talking about aviation, did hurricane hunters go into this storm to more accurately establish a defined circulation and the eye associated with that circulation? Hurricane Hunters did investigate. The consensus then issued safety measures for flights in and out of St. Maarten. Many flights were cancelled. A storm or hurricane has strong winds with even stronger gusts. Airline companies publish limitations for operation of their equipment. Storms and hurricanes carry heavy rain and squalls, which affect visibility. Again airline companies and airports as well handle visibility with very strict rules. Pilots of private aircraft pay a lot of attention to visibility and wind conditions, in particular at take-off and landing in low visibility and cross wind with gusts. Family members, friends and concerned persons abroad rely on information on weather conditions and whether airports are operational. During the weekend just a few airports offered safe conditions in which aircrafts could operate. Quite a number of aircraft are equipped with electronic navigation equipment to operate in low visibility conditions. However, when the risk is too high and falls within an unsafe envelope, flights stay on the ground or divert to operational airports.
All through last week, we could see towering cloud formation leaving a misty trail behind to indicate that the updraft that would carry the clouds aloft while going through climatic conditions contributing to the build up was strong. Some of the clouds picked up additional moisture and became rain clouds, a word we often hear in daily conversation.
In the next one and a half month, the 2012 Hurricane Season will officially come to an end. Not that the weather will magically return to normal conditions. Being the end of the year, normal conditions spell cooler days and pleasant evenings. The end of the Hurricane Season also signals the slow build-up of the tourist season, which will go into full swing after the holidays. Unfortunately, it is during our Hurricane Season that vacationers make their travel arrangements. If the word is out that the eye of a storm has “passed over a particular island or region,” the vacationer will pass us by!! Who would like to spend his money on vacation in an area that is going through a clean up after being hit by the eye of a storm?
Information streaming out of the area should be very well thought about. The ITCZ is still active. Less unfavourable weather conditions are developing along that route at this time. Awareness should remain at a high level, though. Drain ditches and low lying areas have to be scouted for situations that call for a cleanup. For two reasons: the first is public safety and traffic, and the second is that the tourist season will be here soon. If we want the tourist dollar, we need to offer a clean island; our clean island.
What does the Weather Channel say about the coming weeks, and all the other Web-based weather watchers and, above all, our official Meteorology Office? The birds have been here all the time during the passing of Rafael. Some have taken their young ones out on food hunting lessons. They were there in between curtains of rain. I would have worried if they were all out of sight!
A number of Facebook users kept other users informed with official weather information. The word official in this case is like a tranquilizer for the fuzzy mind. Too much vague information in cases like this changes the real picture. Most information was helpful, in particular when the information carried the official seal, or was from reliable sources.
TS Rafael took on an elongated shape by the time it entered the Caribbean. The centre of activity was hard to pinpoint, however, the circulation had to be established and the centre of it had to be indicated in order to set a reference, as a guide to track the system and publish watches and warnings. Because of the elongated shape, wind and rain affected us for a long time. Water runoff on most of the islands in this region is a fortunate situation. Areas dry out rather quickly. To assist the water runoff, drain ditches have to remain clear of debris, as well as known areas of runoff.