Drier than Usual August, Drought Continues

27 09 2021

Dale C. S. Destin |

Like every month of the year, except June, August was drier than usual. The month yielded only 81.0 mm (3.19 in) of rainfall. With continued below normal rainfall, drought continues. The rainfall for the last eight months ranks among the worst on record and there is still not much respite in sight.

The rainfall for August is the second lowest since 2015. The total for the month represents only 71 percent of the normal value of 114.8 mm (4.52 in), a deficit of 29 percent.

The period June-August was also drier than usual. The total of 202.2 mm (7.96 in) was the 18th lowest on record starting 1928. The last time this period was drier was 2015 with 95.0 mm (3.74 in).

We continue to witness one of the driest years on record. The last eight months is the fourth driest on record and the driest since 2015. January to August produced only a meagre 351.3 mm (13.83 in), only a little above half of the usual rainfall of 622.0 mm (24.51 in). Just three years have been drier through August: 2015, 2001 and 1939.  

Since the 2020 November’s deluge, the last nine months, December-August, is the fifth driest on record and the lowest since 2015. The period has only returned 61 percent of normal rainfall.

The upcoming three months, October to December, is likely to see further misery from lower than usual rainfall. Majority of models are forecasting the continuation of drier than normal weather. Hence, more rainfall deficits likely.

WMO Lead Centre for Long-Range Forecast Multi-Model Ensemble is forecasting 50-60% likelihood of below normal rainfall for Antigua and Barbuda. Also, below normal rainfall is likely for much of the rest of the northeast Caribbean.

As the meteorological drought goes, so go the other droughts: agricultural, hydrological and ecological. There is the continuing concern that this may precipitate a socio-economic drought, if it has not already done so. Our utilisation of the ocean for fresh water has made us drought resilient; however, obtaining potable water from this source is several time more expensive than from surface and underground catchments. Also, it has negative climate and environmental consequences, further adding to the overall expense of using the sea as a source for fresh water.  

Potworks Reservoir remains below extraction levels, along with most other surface catchments, according to the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA), the country’s water authority. Water rationing is officially into its second month and with the rainfall outlook being gloomy, it is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

Potworks Reservoir, Bethesda, Antigua, still on the verge of becoming totally dry – Sep 2, 2021. Picture courtesy Karen Corbin of the Humane Society

APUA water manager, Ian Lewis, told the media on August 31, that the Authority is only able to produce six million of the seven-and-a-half million gallons required to serve the country daily. There is not enough water to go around for everyone each day; hence, the rationing.

Antigua is not alone in experiencing significant rainfall shortages. The countries around us remain  thirsty for rainfall also. Deficit rainfall is occurring across the rest of the Leeward Islands, the northern Windward Islands, Hispaniola, Cuba and the Bahamas. And it is probable that it will worsen, over the upcoming months.

CMORPH 180-Day Total Rainfall Anomaly (mm) for the period 26 Mar to 21 Sep 2021

Please continue to follow me for more on this evolving drought and all things weather and climate via TwitterFacebook and Instagram. Also, share this blog, if you found it useful. 

Twin Anniversary of Hurricanes Irma and Luis, where do they Stand Among the Worst Hurricanes to Impact Antigua and Barbuda.

6 09 2021

Dale C. S. Destin |

They both struck on September 5-6 after traversing over the warm waters of the Tropical North Atlantic. Twenty-six years to the day Hurricane Luis (1995) almost totalled Antigua and Barbuda; twenty-two years later, four years ago, Hurricane Irma (2017) did similarly to Barbuda.

Twenty-six years to the day Luis overwhelm our islands, with the centre partially passing over Barbuda and within 25 miles (40 km) of Antigua. Four years ago today, the date of Irma evoked memories of Luis, but it was no Luis.

Irma set a virtually unreachable bar for strength, but Luis set the record for size and cost. Luis was a great big giant while Irma was a mighty midget. The diameter of Irma’s hurricane-force winds was less than 75 miles (121 km) with a radius of less than 25 miles south of the centre. Contrastingly, the diameter for the hurricane-force winds of Luis was at least twice Irma’s, over 150 miles (241 km), with the hurricane force-wind extending about 50 miles (80 km) to the south.

Hurricane Irma on Sep 5 (top) and Hurricane Luis on Sep 3 (bottom) via NOAA satellites

Strength matters but clearly size matters more. Although both hurricanes took a similar journey through the area, Luis caused hurricane-force winds to reach both Antigua and Barbuda, whereas none reach Antigua from Irma. While in our neck of the woods, Luis had peak sustained winds of 140 mph (225 km/h) and Irma had 180 mph, 129% the strength of Luis but about 50% its size. This is what saved Antigua from the Category 5+++ wrath of Irma.

The actual paths of Hurricanes Irma and Luis courtesy NOAA Historical Hurricane Tracks

Antigua and Barbuda has been impacted by 14 major hurricanes, passing within 69 miles (111 km), on record dating back to 1851. There have been four in the last 26 years–Jose and Irma 2017, Georges 1998 and Luis 1995.

Meteo-France radar image showing the eye of Hurricane Irma passing over Barbuda, about 25 miles north of Antigua, 1:15 am (05:15 UTC) Wednesday Sep 6, 2017

A hurricane that compares well with Irma and Luis is Dog of 1950. Dog, also known as “the great hurricane of the central Atlantic”, came through as a Category 4 hurricane with wind of 130 mph (209 km/h). Its centre passed within 10  miles (16 km) of Antigua and within 15 miles (24 km) of Barbuda. Its powerful eyewall would have impacted both islands, like Luis 45 years later.

Prior to Luis, Dog was considered the most severe hurricane on record in Antigua and Barbuda. The damage caused by Dog amounted to up to US$1 million. In today’s currency, that is equivalent to US$8 million, paling in comparison to the US$100 to US$350 million (US$216 to US$755 million 2021) caused by Luis. Dog’s damage also pales in comparison to that of Irma’s US$136 million (US$153 million 2021). Total damage and loss from Irma were about US$155 million (US$174 million 2021).

Downtown St. John’s, Antigua with piles of galvanize

Irma ranks as the strongest hurricane to pass within 69 miles of Antigua in the record books, which dates back to 1851. Luis ranks sixth and Dog ranks seventh. Interestingly, 9 of the 14 major hurricanes passing less than 70 miles of Antigua and Barbuda occurred in the pre-climate change era–1980. The second and third strongest were in 1899 and 1928 respectively.

Major hurricanes to pass within 69 miles of Antigua and Barbuda 1851 to 2021. Multiply by 1.61 to get km/h
NOAA satellite image showing Barbuda in the eye of Irma 1:45 am (05:45 UTC) Wednesday, 6 Sep 2021

Congratulations to all who survived these hurricane nightmares, which I hate to call anniversaries. Let’s hope we don’t see another Luis or Irma-like major hurricane, which is perhaps wishful hoping. More realistically, let us prepare as much as possible to be hurricane strong i.e. hurricane resilient, so that we are able to put up a better fight to resist the next hurricane be it major or not.

Please follow or continue to follow me for hurricane history and all things weather and climate via TwitterFacebook and Instagram. Also, share this blog, if you found it useful.

Correction: In the original blog post published on September 6, 2021, I mistakenly calculated the current day value of the damage and loss caused by Hurricanes Dog, Luis and Irma. I updated the post to fix the mistakes on September 13. Apologies for the miscalculations.

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