Mr. Harry Cain Season Is Here

By G. Michael Reid

O God, Master of this passing world, hear the humble voices of your children. The Sea of Galilee obeyed your order and returned to its former quietude; you are still the Master of land and sea. We live in the shadow of a danger over which we have no control. The Gulf, like a provoked and angry giant, can awake from its seeming lethargy, overstep its conventional boundaries, invade our land and spread chaos and disaster. During this hurricane season, we turn to You, O loving Father. Spare us from past tragedies whose memories are still so vivid and whose wounds seem to refuse to heal with the passing of time…. so that spared from the calamities common to this area and animated with a true spirit of gratitude, we will walk in your footsteps to reach the heavenly Jerusalem where a storm-less eternity awaits us. ~ from a prayer dedicated to the victims of Hurricane Audrey in 1957.

We are just a little into the start of the 2016 Hurricane Season and it seems that we have shot out the gate in a hurry. This year saw the development of not only one but two storms that reached hurricane status as early as January with Alex forming over the Atlantic and Hurricane Pali forming over the Central Pacific. It is the first time since records began being kept in 1851 that two such storms have occurred so early and let us hope it is no harbinger of things to come.

With this in mind, it seemed apropos to shed a little light on this deadly nonpareil that threatens us each year from June to November. Of course, while those six months are considered the official Hurricane Season, we are warned each year that hurricanes can actually form in any month; as is evident by the formation of Alex and Pali in January of all months. We nonetheless count our blessings, because except for the occasional tremor, we are spared the threat of earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes and the other natural disasters that plague other parts of the world. Ole Mr. Harry Cain of course, offers enough drama on its own.

For the earliest since hurricanes began being named, we also reached the letter “C”, as Hurricane Colin spawned heavy rains over Florida last week. Fortunately, not much havoc was wreaked by either storm and Colin was described as “primarily a rainmaker”. With our little country so prone to flooding, blackouts and other storm related hazards, even such rainmakers make us nervous and send us bustling and stocking up on supplies.

Hurricanes are a potentially deadly phenomenon and might be the only thing that strikes more fear in the hearts of Belizeans than a Guatemalan invasion. While Belize has been hit by quite a few storms in our relatively brief existence, two storms in particular remains etched in the annals of our history; an unnamed storm of 1931 and of course, Hurricane Hattie which struck on October 31st 1961.

Each year when these storms threaten, we give thanks for the incredibly foresight of the Father of our Nation who saw it fit to buck criticism and move our capital inland. Belmopan has been a saving grace and apart from being a refuge from storms, it has grown into quite the cuddly little paradise of its own. Unfortunately, lately it has also become plagued by the terrible scourge of crime that ravages the rest of our nation. Fix it people, fix it!

Hurricanes are generally “a rotating, organized system of clouds and thunderstorms that originates over tropical or subtropical waters and has closed low-level circulation”. It is the end process of a cycle that begins with a tropical depression and evolves into a tropical storm and then a hurricane. Once a storm reaches a sustained wind speed of 39 miles per hour it is considered a tropical storm and is given a name. Once the winds achieve a sustained speed of 74 miles per hour, it is considered a hurricane and retains the name given to the tropical storm. The ingredients for a hurricane include warm tropical seas, moisture, and a little wind. If these conditions persist for any period of time, they combine to produce “violent winds, incredible waves, torrential rains, and floods”. We know too well about these, don’t we?

Hurricanes spin in different directions depending on which side of the equator they are formed. They spin to the left (or clockwise) in the southern hemisphere and to the right (counter-clockwise) in the northern hemisphere. This is caused by what is considered a “super-powerful phenomenon” known as the “Coriolis Effect”. This is what deflects moving objects to either the right or the left depending on which side of the equator you are on. And they say there’s no GOD!!!!

Hurricanes are called by different names depending on geographical locations. In the Atlantic and Northern Pacific they are called hurricanes while in the Northwest Pacific they are called typhoons. In the South Pacific and Indian Ocean they are called cyclones. They are all generally the same which is Suffice to say, very dangerous animals.

Although the credit for giving names to storms is bestowed upon Australian meteorologist Clement Wragge, there are records of storms being named for hundred years of years before Wragge who retired in 1907. Hurricanes were first named after the saint on whose day they would occur. For example the infamous San Felipe Hurricane which hit the island of Puerto Rico on September 13th, 1876. Incredibly enough, another storm also named San Felipe again hit Puerto Rico and again on September 13th, this time 52 years later in 1928; go figure!

In 1951, meteorologist in the United States began naming storms by the phonetic alphabet of Able, Baker, Charlie, etc. but found it too confusing when a new, international phonetic alphabet was introduced. Two years later, that practice was abandoned in favour of naming storms exclusively with women’s names. As could be expected, they eventually ran into problems with that and in 1979 were forced to begin adding male names to the list.

Using male names might have had an unexpected advantage since in an interesting study conducted at the University of Illinois, researcher Sharon Shavitt found that people actually took storms with female names less seriously. That, according to Shavitt, invariably put lives at risk. Needless to say, she has been assailed, in particular by feminists critics. Shavitt is sticking by her findings however.

Here’s another interesting fact that might create some stir. There are phases of the oceans temperature that are called El Nino and La Nina (no space to explain those, you’ll have to look them up). But while El Niño occurs more frequently than La Niña, in an article published in the Amandala of last May under the title “Analyzing 60 years of Belize hurricane history”, our very own Frank Tench revealed an interesting statistic. According to data compiled between 1954 and 2014, there was all of one (1) hurricane during El Nino years as opposed to, count them, twelve (12) during the years of La Nina. According to Tench, as a general rule fewer tropical storms form over the Tropical Atlantic and Caribbean during El Niño episodes when compared to La Nina. Go tackle Frank, not me.

Fun and jokes aside folks, we need to vigilant and prepared. Experts are predicting an above average number of storms for this year and with us forever being in licks way, any number might play. Stock on your can foods, candles and check the batteries in the flashlights. May GOD spare us again this year and may we always be blessed!

The Belize Times