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Update on the Atlantic Hurricane Season

by Louay Habib 8 Sep 2017 12:30 BST 8 September 2017
Hurricane Irma © Irma

Hurricanes are a fact of life in the Caribbean and Southern USA. Hurricane Harvey reeked havoc in the Southern United States, before Irma started, and the danger to people and property in this region is far from over.

Irma is heading for Florida, and Hurricane Jose with sustained winds of 120 mph is moving across the Atlantic, whilst Tropical Storm Katia, in the Gulf of Mexico, has just been upgraded to a Category 1 Hurricane.

Irma started life as a Tropical Wave off the Cape Verde Islands on the West Coast of Africa. Warm air rising from the Sahara, becomes fuelled by the warm waters of the Atlantic, and grows in size and power until it becomes categorised as a hurricane. Irma grew to an area the size of France, and the spinning cloud around its centre reached 185 mph, as it arrived in the Caribbean on the other side of the Atlantic. Well known yachting destinations have been devastated by its power. Barbuda, 40 miles north west of Antigua, took a direct hit. St. Barts, St.Maarten and Anguilla were next, followed by the British and US Virgin Islands.

The most active Atlantic hurricane season in recorded history, shattering numerous records was 2005, and in 2008 eight hurricanes were recorded but none of them was a Category 5. Irma was declared a Category 5 Hurricane, one that is considered by the United States National Hurricane Center, to have had sustained wind speeds greater than 136 knots (157mph; 252 km/h). Since 1924, 32 Category 5 Hurricanes have been recorded.

Antigua felt the force of Irma, but the hurricane turned north just before arrival, sparing the island from a major catastrophe. Barbuda is part of the twin island nation of Antigua, in yacht racing, a racing mark off Barbuda is the first of the RORC Caribbean 600. The coral island is very flat, and was absolutely devastated by Irma. The local population have been left with virtually nothing; all of their homes have been destroyed, there is no power, no communication, and drinking water has been contaminated by the damage and debris.

Reports are starting to come in from St.Maarten, home of the Heineken Regatta, and St. Barths which hosts the Barths Bucket and Voile de St. Barths. The airport at St.Maarten has been devastated, the marinas have sustained damage and there is severe flooding in low lying areas for both St.Maarten and St. Barths.

There is little information coming from the British Virgin Islands but it is believed that Nanny Cay, Tortola, the home of the BVI Spring Regatta, has been hit hard.

In recent years, Caribbean nations have invested time and money to defend themselves against these potentially catastrophic natural disasters, building stronger homes, providing storm water drainage, and developing early warning systems so that people can prepare for the worst. All of this will not stop a hurricane from developing. However the development of this infrastructure has, and will, save lives.

The Red Cross has set up an Hurricane Irma appeal fund here:

Editor's Note: Louay has asked for his fee for this article to be paid to the Red Cross, which we have done together with our own donation.