Rains may soon end drought

Chief Meteorologist Dennis Gonguez told Amandala that the historic drought Belize (along with other parts of the region) has been facing may come to an end here if the rains continue into the next couple of days, with showers and thunderstorms marking the start of the official Atlantic Hurricane Season, which opens each year on June 1 and ends November 30.

A flurry of storm activity was registered during the 2010 hurricane season with 19 named storms, 12 hurricanes and 5 major hurricanes—well above the usual average. Belize was impacted last year by Alex, Matthew and Karl (which passed north of us near Chetumal), in addition to Richard, which pummeled central Belize. Belize saw its most active season since 2005, but, according to Gonguez, things should not be that bad this year, according to the official predictions.

The National Hurricane Center reported today that a small area of low pressure, moving west-southwestward near 20 mph, is located just to the east of Daytona Beach, Florida, and is expected to produce showers and thunderstorms over the area but significant development is not expected as the system moves over land over the next day.

Additionally, the NHC said that disorganized cloudiness and showers appear over the southwestern and
west-central Caribbean Sea, offshore Nicaragua, associated with a broad surface trough. Gradual development is possible.

According to Gonguez, conditions for development of the system offshore Nicaragua are not currently favorable but on Friday conditions are expected to improve and may be conducive for development; but the system can, depending on related atmospheric conditions, dissipate.

“I keep repeating that we should use the experiences of the last hurricane season to better prepare,” said Gonguez.

According to Gonguez, this year will have above average activity, though not as many storms and hurricanes as last year. Meteorologists are predicting between 12 and 18 named storms and hurricanes, higher than the average 10 storms. Of those, 6 to 10 are expected to become hurricanes, higher than the average 6. They are also forecasting that 3 to 6 major hurricanes will form this year, exceeding the average 2 major hurricanes.

The Cuban Meteorological Service, the only one in our region, is predicting 13 named storms and 7 hurricanes; they don’t make forecasts for intense hurricanes, said Gonguez.

Gonguez told us that the massive extent of burnings as a result of forest fires, amid the drought, may have changed the vegetation patterns as well as the topography of certain watersheds around the country, which could, consequently increase the chances of mudslides or landslides at higher elevations in the event of severe storm systems.

He said that there are no monitoring programs to assess what areas have become more vulnerable to mudslides, and people, especially those living along rivers, have to be more aware of their surroundings and observe where slippage of land may be occurring.

“Seasonal forecasts do not tell about locations of impacts or landfall,” the NMS’s press release notes. “However, projections of heightened activity correlate to increased likelihood or probability of being impacted by a tropical storm or hurricane.”

The NMS urges proper planning and preparation to preserve life and property.

“Experiences gained from last year’s tropical storms Alex, Karl and Matthew, and more so from Hurricane Richard can be used to adequately improve preparations for this 2011 season,” said the release.

Gonguez always stresses that it only takes one storm to have a major impact on Belize, but “still we shouldn’t let our guards down, as the numbers don’t tell where landfall will be.”

NMS says that they will “...once again be putting forward our utmost best to provide accurate and timely information on all such systems that could impact on our nation.”

Belize’s Doppler radar, which is able to help us track storm systems locally, is functioning, Gonguez confirmed.

The list of names for the 2011 Hurricane Season is: Arlene, Bret, Cindy, Don, Emily, Franklin, Gert, Harvey, Irene, Jose, Katia, Lee, Maria, Nate, Ophelia, Philippe, Rina, Sean, Tammy, Vince, and Whitney.