Today, November 30 marks the end of what many will remember as the worst hurricane season ever!
The British Virgin Islands (BVI) experienced three unprecedented events in 2017, starting with the Tropical Wave impact on August 7 – 8, which brought an abrupt end to the August Monday Parade after dumping 14.78 inches of rain in 20.5 hours. The estimated damage from this single event is calculated at $7.7 million and resulted in over 400 homes being impacted and more than 40 businesses significantly affected. It also caused major washouts on roadways and large landslides in some areas.
The most catastrophic event in the history of the BVI will be recorded as the impact from Category 5 Hurricane Irma that wreaked havoc on the Territory on September 6 causing four deaths and widespread damage to roads, homes, ports, telecommunications, utilities, critical facilities such as clinics and schools, a massive field of debris, both on land and on sea and stripping the vegetation from the hillsides.
Although the rainfall amounts from Irma was not as significant, the sustained winds were the strongest ever to be recorded in the Atlantic at 185 miles per hour with much higher gusts. The turbulence created by the intense winds created tornadic conditions over many of the islands impacted and as a result, it is expected that the local wind gusts may have far exceeded the sustained wind speed.
Just two weeks later on September 19, Hurricane Maria, another category 5 system, passed 80 miles to the South-southeast of the Territory dumping approximately eight inches of rainfall and bringing with it, destructive storm surges that impacted many coastal areas especially on Tortola.
Director of the Department of Disaster Management, Sharleen DaBreo said, “From a scientific perspective, the barometric pressure from both Irma and Maria were the lowest ever, recorded as 915 and 908 millibars respectively. This not only had an explosive impact on windows and doors but residents have spoken about the physiological effects that this low pressure caused.”
This year’s hurricane season has brought with it 17 named storms, 10 hurricanes and six major hurricanes. The 2017 season was the fifth highest recorded active season in the Atlantic based on records from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In addition, it produced the highest number of major hurricanes since 2005. It was the first time in 28 years that a major hurricane impacted the BVI. Like Luis and Marilyn of 1995, Irma and Maria impacted the BVI in a single season.
The impacts from the unprecedented trio combined will result in the costliest year in terms of hazard impacts for the BVI and the first time that deaths have resulted from the impact of hurricanes.
The National Hurricane Centre will retire three hurricane names Harvey, Irma and Maria due to the level of impact they caused to the Caribbean and United States mainland. If the damage estimates are correct then this Hurricane Season will be the costliest ever for the Caribbean and the United States.
According to Ms. DaBreo, there are many lessons to be learnt from the devastation witnessed this year.
She said, “This hurricane season will change the way that the region plans for hurricanes and other climate related hazards. We have experienced relatively quiet years but this year brought with it, destruction never seen before in the BVI. With the experience of the unprecedented trio in 2017 and the 2003 and 2010 rain events as well as the changing weather patterns, we must ensure that we remain in a constant state of readiness year round.”
According to Colorado State University meteorologist Phil Klotzbach, who produces the annual hurricane predictions, “The storms this year were forced further west by a pretty strong subtropical high that prevented recurvature out to sea.”
This, the Director attributes as one reason why the BVI was hit more than once this year with devastating hurricanes.
She added that, although the hurricane season officially ends today, residents are being asked not to let their guard down. Historical records have shown that tropical storms and hurricanes have occurred in December.