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WEATHER | Early warning systems being reviewed

An expert review has been launched to determine how effective the Caribbean’s early warnings were during the devastating 2017 hurricane season in order to strengthen resilience against future disasters.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and regional and international partners will make the assessment as part of the Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems (CREWS) initiative. The plan is to  publish the findings ahead of this year’s North Atlantic and Caribbean hurricane season, the WMO has said in a release.

Two regional institutions based in Barbados, the Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH) and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), will be leading the expert reviews.

The 2017 season was one of the worst on record, killing more than 300 people and causing hundreds of casualties while reversing socioeconomic development in the hardest hit territories.

In Barbuda, 90 percent of the infrastructure was destroyed, and Dominica was devastated.

For the Caribbean islands that were affected, timely and clear warnings of the impending tropical cyclones are an essential part of their capacity to cope with such extreme weather events and manage disaster risk.

The WMO noted that as early as May 2017, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had forecast a 45 percent chance of an above-normal season. By August, it had raised the forecast to 14 to 19 named hurricanes systems for the year.

According to Mary Power, the director of the Development and Regional Activities Department at WMO, “The death toll of the largest hurricanes were certainly reduced because we saw them coming. Forecasting models accurately predicted the hurricane path and anticipated their extreme intensities days ahead. This allowed territories in the region to declare a state of emergency up to two days in advance of landfall.

However, she noted that that was not the entire picture since they need to better predict what the impact of the hurricane will be in a given location.

“If the warning system does not inform on the potential floods, high winds and storm surges, it is difficult for people to take preventive action. The objective of an early warning system is to save lives and livelihoods when faced by an extreme climate event – measuring their effectiveness is not easy. While we account for lives lost, we rarely account for lives saved,” Power said.

Dr. David Farrell, principal of CIMH, noted, “It is important to understand what worked and what didn’t with regard to hydro-meteorological and impacts forecasts delivered to stakeholders, the performance of the national and regional early warning and observation platforms, national and regional decision-support systems prior to and post event and the warnings and their dissemination to the public prior to and post-impact.

“The complete failure of the national power and telecommunications infrastructure in an extremely active hurricane season presented unique challenges to the effective dissemination of forecasts and warnings,” he reportedly said.

Meanwhile, Ronald Jackson, executive director of CDEMA, said the review will contribute to a harmonised vision on how the region will address issues of not just alert and warning, but also how our communities respond to this information.

“I am very concerned that most of our vulnerable communities still remain without adequate facilities for effectively disseminating impending emergency situations to all segment of our society and to facilitate their early action in response to the information received,” Jackson is reported as saying.

The World Bank, through the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, is one of the lead implementing partners of CREWS.

The objective of the CREWS initiative is to significantly increase the capacity of Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States to generate and communicate effective, impact-based, multi-hazard, gender-informed, early warnings and risk information. A funding window of U.S. $5.5 million is earmarked for the Caribbean region with the contributors being Australia, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

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