July Update: Below Normal Rainfall Still Most Likely for Antigua for 2022

9 07 2022

Dale C. S. Destin |

The prediction for rainfall remains unpromising. My latest updated forecast continues to call for most likely below normal rainfall for Antigua. The most likely total for the year is 1089 (42.9 in), up 9 mm (0.4 in) from the previous forecast. There is also a 70 percent or high confidence of the rainfall total falling in the range of 827 to 1405 mm (32.6 to 55.3 in).

The main reason for the below normal rainfall forecast is the cooler than average sea surface temperatures (SSTs) across the tropical North Atlantic (TNA), during the first half of the year, which led to a drier than normal dry season – January to June. Cooler than normal TNA SSTs favour suppressed rainfall conditions while the opposite enhances rainfall.

There is a La Niña underway, and this historically favours above normal rainfall for our area. Thus, the latter half of the year will most likely see near normal rainfall. However, because we are so deep in drought, normal rainfall is not going to cut it. Notwithstanding, below normal rainfall being most likely, there are relatively healthy probabilities for near or above normal totals – there is hope, think rain.    

A typical year, based on the new standard climate period 1991-2020, averages 1156.7 mm (45.54 in). The dry season averages 410 mm (16.14 in) and the wet season, July to December, averages 746.8 mm (29.40 in). Fall/autumn, September-November, accounts for 58 percent of the wet season total and 38 percent of the year’s total.

Regardless of the forecast, we all need to conserve water and be as efficient with its use as much as possible. Reducing our personal water footprint will literally redound to our individual and collective socio-economic benefit. Minimising your water footprint is also good for the climate, good for our environment and good for rainfall.

This forecast will be updated during the first week of August.

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What does an Active Hurricane Season Mean for Antigua?

9 05 2022

Dale C. S. Destin |

The early forecast is for the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season to be an active one or above normal. What could this mean for you? Will Antigua be affected by a named storm (tropical storm or hurricane)?

What is an active or above normal hurricane season? This is a season with the accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) index in the top third of the 1991-2020 dataset, or an ACE of 152 or higher. The ACE is a metric that takes into consideration not only the number of named tropical cyclones (subtropical storms, tropical storms or hurricanes) but also their strength and duration.

Given the forecast for an active hurricane season, there is a 43 percent chance/probability of a named storm passing within 105 nautical miles of Antigua or affecting (hitting of brushing) us. This translates into a named storm return period of 2 to 3 active years or a named storm affecting us every 2 to 3 active years, on average. Our last named storm during an active year was Tropical Storm Laura of 2020. This means statistically we are not due one this year, if the season turns out to be active, as forecast.

With an active season forecast, a named storm has a 28 percent probability of affecting us as a hurricane and an 18 percent probability of affecting us as a major hurricane (Category 3 or higher). On average, we get a hurricane passing within 105 nautical miles of Antigua every 3 to 4 active seasons and a major hurricane every 5 to 6 active seasons.

Our last hurricane during an active season, which was also a major hurricane, was Maria of 2017. It did not cause us hurricane winds, but it passed within 105 nautical miles to our southwest, affecting us with storm-force winds. Given we average a hurricane every 3 to 4 active years, and there has been only one active season since then, 2020; statistically, this means we are NOT due for a hurricane this year. Additionally, we are also NOT due a major hurricane this year.

What if a season is not active? For a near normal season, the chance of us being affected by a named storm drops to 23 percent and the chance of that named storm being a hurricane plummets to just 3 percent. If by some miracle, the season is below normal, the chance of a named storm passing within 105 nautical miles from Antigua is 21 percent with a 6 percent chance of it being a hurricane. For non-active seasons, near or below normal, we stand a zero percent chance of getting a major hurricane.

A tropical storm or hurricane not being due does not guarantee one will not occur. The fact that the probability of a named storm in any given year is not zero means that one could occur in any year, despite not being statistically due. An event with a given return period is said to be not due when the average return period has not yet elapsed. Because this is an average return period, the event can happen at any time before or after the return period.

Annually, based on the standard climate period of 1991 to 2020, taking all seasons into consideration, there is a 66 percent chance of a named storm affecting Antigua. Further, there is a 35 percent chance of the named storm being a hurricane and an 18 percent chance of it being a major hurricane.

Tracks of all 31 named storms to have passed within 105 nautical miles of Antigua, 1991 to 2020

Active hurricane seasons are generally not good for us, which may not come as a surprise to you. What may be new here are the relatively high chance of us being affected during such a season, which the forecast is calling for this year.

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Wet Weekend for the Northeast Caribbean

28 04 2022

Dale C. S. Destin |

A trough system is poised to cause wet weather across the northeast Caribbean, including Antigua and Barbuda. Several of the more reliable weather models are forecasting the potential (10 percent chance) for rainfall totals exceeding 25 mm (over 1 in) to fall over the period Friday to Sunday of this weekend.

The potential total for over 25 mm in 72 hours is not in and of itself a high figure. However, relative to April and the fact that we are in a severe drought makes this worth “writing home about”.

Whereas all models consulted are forecasting rainfall for the weekend, the forecast totals differ, as can be expected. At the lower end of the potential rainfall scale some are projecting a 10 percent chance of over 25 mm (over an inch), while others are suggesting potentially higher totals, a 10 percent chance of over 75 mm (3 in) for the weekend.

GFS 24hr precipitation total exceedance forecast probabilities showing all areas with at least a 10 percent chance of getting over 50 mm (2 in) of rainfall from 2 am Saturday, 30 April to 2 am Sunday, 1 May 2022

The wet weather is expected from Dominica to Hispaniola. The highest totals are likely across Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands Saturday/Sunday. Most of the rainfall for Antigua and the rest of the Leeward Islands is likely Friday/Saturday and for Hispaniola Sunday/Monday.

If the models prove right, and the upper end of the rainfall potential materialises, some places across the northeast Caribbean could see the average total for April falling in one weekend, if not one day. The possible rainfall total for the area is 25 to 100 mm (1 to 4 in). With this kind of rainfall possible, depending on the intensity and duration, flash flooding and associated impacts are of concern.

Deterministic rainfall accumulation forecast by the GFS model from Thursday, 28 April to Sunday, 1 May 2022

The rainfall of this weekend could, at least, put a dent or further dent in the droughts across the area, particularly the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. It will certainly have a big impact on domestic catchments, temporarily easing the stress and demand on water resources authorities.

There is no doubt that these showers will be welcome by all; however, they could prove disruptive to weekend plans leading up to Labour Day Monday celebrations. Good news though: The weather should just about be back to normal by Monday.

The system has already caused wet weather across the southern Caribbean with some areas receiving over 75 mm (3 in). The trough also prompted flash flood warnings for some islands.

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Early Prediction: Below Normal Rainfall Most Likely for Antigua

21 04 2022

Dale C. S. Destin |

The year will most likely be another drier than usual one for Antigua. My early forecast calls for the rainfall total for 2022 to most likely be 1105 mm (43.50 in) with a 70 percent or high confidence of it being in the range of 811 to 1463 mm (31.93 to 57.60 in).

The main reason for the most likely below normal rainfall forecast is the current cooler than normal sea surface temperatures (SSTs) across the tropical North Atlantic (TNA), which should last, at least, into the second half of the year. Cooler than normal TNA SSTs favour suppressed rainfall conditions while the opposite enhances rainfall.  

The year started out with a severe drought brought forward. This drought started in the winter of 2020/2021 and continues through the present. January 2022 was wetter than January 2021, but it was still only 72 percent of the normal total. The last two months, February and March, have been wetter than normal resulting in the intensity of the meteorological drought easing to slight. This easing is likely to be a brief respite, given the forecast.  

The dry season, January to June, will likely be below normal with a 60 percent chance. The forecast is for 298 mm (11.73 in) with high confidence of it ranging between 182 to 459 mm (7.17 to 18.07 in). This dry season could also be one of the top 10 driest. There is a 33 percent chance of this happening with the possibility of the total falling below 254 mm (10 in). Currently, the total stands at less than 203 mm (8 in) with April running well below normal at less than 25.4 mm (1.0 in) and the forecast indicating a better than 70 percent chance of May-June being drier than normal.

WMO Lead Centre for Long-Range Forecast Multi-Model Ensemble is forecasting 70-80% likelihood of below normal rainfall for Antigua and Barbuda for May to July. Also, below normal rainfall is likely for much of the rest of the Eastern Caribbean.

A typical year, based on the new standard climate period 1991-2020, averages 1156.7 mm (45.54 in). The dry season averages 410 mm (16.14 in) and the wet season, July to December, averages 746.8 mm (29.40 in). The fall/autumn, September-November, accounts for 58 percent of the wet season total and 38 percent of the year’s total.

Rainfall-wise, last year–2021, will be most remembered for being the second driest on record with some parts of the country having record-breaking dry weather. There were likely significant socio-economic impacts but unfortunately, this has not been quantified.

This forecast will be updated monthly around the 21st of each month until August. The first update will be issued around May 21.

Regardless of the forecast, we all need to conserve water and be as efficient with its use as much as possible. Reducing our personal water footprint will literally redound to our individual and collective socio-economic benefit. Minimising your water footprint is also good for the climate and good for our environment.

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Early Prediction: Very Busy 2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season Forecast

14 04 2022

Dale C. S. Destin |

This hurricane season will likely be another very busy one, exhausting the primary list of named storms, once again. My early forecast for the 2022 Season is out, and it calls for 21 named storms, 9 hurricanes and 4 major hurricanes.

In addition to being a very busy season, it is most likely to be an active season. Recall that the accumulated cyclone energy index (ACE) is the universally accepted metric used to classify the overall activity of a hurricane season. The ACE forecast for this year is 182, 30 above the threshold for an active season, based on 1991-2020 data.

A super hyperactive season is also possible. There is a 36 percent chance of the ACE exceeding 223. Further, there is a 49 percent chance of more than 19 named storms; 30 percent chance of more than 11 hurricanes and 29 percent chance of more than 6 major hurricanes.

If the forecast pans out, this season would be the third most active since 2017, in terms of ACE, and the tied with 1998 for the 10th most active on record dating back to 1851. It would also tie 2021 for the third highest number of named storms.  

According to other forecasts surveyed, the consensus is for an ACE of 161, 19 named storms, 8 hurricanes and 4 major hurricanes, a busy and active season. This is generally consistent with my forecast but with a notable 21 less ACE. However, regardless of the forecast, you should always be well prepared each season, as it only takes one hurricane to ruin your year and or life.

The main reason for the above normal forecasts is the current La Niña, which should last into the first half of the hurricane season and maintain favourable conditions for tropical cyclone formation even beyond August, into the peak of the hurricane season.

A typical season, based on the new standard climate period 1991-2020, has 14 named storms, 7 hurricanes and 4 major hurricanes. Major hurricanes have sustained wind speeds of at least 178 km/h or 111 miles per hour (e.g., Category 3 or higher), according to the Saffir Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

The last Atlantic hurricane season–2021, will be most remembered for being a very busy season with 21 named storms. Collectively, the season caused 103 deaths and over US$80 billion in damage. Major Hurricane Ida alone caused 55 deaths and over US$75 billion in damage.

This forecast will be updated monthly around the 14th of each month until August. The first update will be issued around May 14.

The Atlantic hurricane season officially begins on June 1 and concludes on November 30; nevertheless, in the last six years, there have been preseason tropical cyclones–be prepared!

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The Northern Caribbean Set to Experience its Worst Swell Event for the Season

5 02 2022

Dale C. S. Destin |

Strong winds from a low-pressure system, some distance away, are pushing relatively large swells toward the northern Caribbean and the Bahamas, including Antigua and Barbuda and the rest of the Leeward Islands. Swells have started to arrive and will reach warning levels tonight through much of Saturday night.

NOAA Station 41044 – NE ST MARTIN – 330 NM NE St Martin Is showing relatively tall swells heading toward the northern Caribbean

This will be no Swellmageddon but it will be the worst swell event of the swell season: December to April. This event will see swell waves coming from the north-northeast at 2 to 3 metres (7 to 10 ft). Occasionally, they will reach 4 metres (near 13 ft). Though it will be no Swellmageddon, it will not be your garden variety swell event, as surf warnings are required.

Video by Windy.com showing swell heights
The possibility of significant wave heights (SWH) equaling or exceeding 3 metres or 10 feet. This is likely to expected in the northern coastal waters, according to the ECMWF IFS Model.

These swells will be virtually harmless in open waters, but they will be a very different “kettle of fish” when they run up on reefs and exposed northern and eastern coastlines which are relatively shallow and gentle to moderately sloping. In these environs, surfs (breaking swells) could be as much as twice the height of swells, as they crash onto shorelines.

Surfs at Fort James during a past swell/surf event

Such high swells and surfs will produce a high threat to life and property in the surf zone. There is the potential for extensive impacts. High surfs will result in beach closures, as swimming conditions will be extremely dangerous for beachgoers. Not entering the waters of affected areas would be a great safety idea and best advice.

The event will likely cause major beach erosion; possibly flooding of low-lying coastal roads; disruptions to marine recreation and businesses; financial losses and damage to coral reefs.

Although relatively small, this swell episode may also cause disruptions to potable water from desalination, as turbulent seas, will increase the turbidity of the water above tolerable levels for the desalting plants.

A high surf warning has been issued by the Met Office for Antigua and much of the rest of the northeast Caribbean. Other offices, as far west as the Bahamas, are expected to issue requisite marine alerts, if they have not done so already.

Precautionary actions: No one should enter the waters of the main warning areas: northern and eastern coastlines. All are also urged to stay away from rocky and or coastal structures along affected coastlines.

The impact on shorelines will not be the same everywhere. Depending on the depth, size, shape and the natural shelter of the coastal waters, the impact will be different. Shallow north-facing shorelines are expected to see the highest swells and surfs.

Seas are to return to safe levels by Monday morning.

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Tropical Cyclone and Climate Change According to the IPCC

19 11 2021

Dale C. S. Destin|

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group I, recently issued its report: Climate Change 2021, The Physical Science Basis. Living in the Caribbean, I was particularly interested on what it had to say about the poster child of climate change–tropical cyclones (tropical depressions, tropical storms and hurricanes). This is of particular interest to me and the Caribbean public, which there must be clarity on for the purposes of, among other things, adaptation planning since climate change mitigation is virtually a lost cause.

Global Annual Total of Named Storms (Subtropical Storms, Tropical Storms and Hurricanes) Showing no Significant Trend

Having interrogated the document and obtained the answers, I present my findings in an interview report format for simplicity and clarity:

Dale Destin: Has climate change caused an increase in the number of tropical cyclones globally?

IPCC: There is low confidence in long-term (multi-decadal to centennial) trends in the frequency of all-category tropical cyclones (A.3.4).

DD: Has there been an increase in the strength of tropical cyclones, due to climate change?

IPCC: It is likely that the global proportion of major (Category 3–5) tropical cyclone occurrence has increased over the last four decades (A.3.4).

DD: Are tropical cyclones producing more rainfall?

IPCC: Event attribution studies and physical understanding indicate that human-induced climate change increases heavy precipitation associated with tropical cyclones (high confidence) but data limitations inhibit clear detection of past trends on the global scale (A.3.4).

DD: Will climate change cause an increase in the number of tropical cyclones?

IPCC: The total global number of tropical cyclones is expected to decrease or remain unchanged (medium confidence) (TS.2.3)

DD: What is the projection for tropical cyclone strength?

IPCC: The proportion of intense tropical cyclones (categories 4-5) and peak wind speeds of the most intense tropical cyclones are projected to increase at the global scale with increasing global warming (high confidence) (B.2.4).

As real as climate change is, the impact on tropical cyclones–the poster child for climate change, is limited, at best, thus far. While it is “likely” that there may be an increase in the global number of major tropical cyclones over the last 40 years, there is low confidence in any increase over the long-term.

While currently climate change has had a limited impact on tropical cyclones, this is likely to change for the worst in the future. The overall total global numbers of tropical cyclones may not change but there is high confidence that there will be an increase in categories 4-5 tropical cyclones.

Tropical cyclones have been made the poster child of climate change; however, based on the IPCC Report, they have not earned this poster-child position, yet.

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Near Normal Rainfall for September, Drought Continues

27 10 2021

Dale C. S. Destin |

September joins June as the only two months of the year, thus far, to register near normal rainfall, all others had below normal figures. The month produced 122.2 mm (4.81 in) of rainfall, the highest total for any month since December 2020; notwithstanding, drought continues through September. The rainfall for the last nine months ranks among the worst on record, and it is still unclear as to when there will be significant respite.

The rainfall for September is the second lowest since 2015. However, the total for the month was a decent 90 percent of the normal value of 136.4 mm (5.37 in), only a deficit of 10 percent.

The period July-September was also drier than usual. The total of 268.7 mm (10.58 in) was the 18th lowest on record starting 1928. The last time this period was drier was 2015 with 168.1 mm (6.62 in).

We continue to witness one of the driest years on record. Thus far, this January to September is the sixth driest on record and the driest since 2015. The first three-quarters of the year has only a meagre 473.5 mm (18.64 in), only a little over 62 percent of the usual rainfall of 759.0 mm (29.88 in). The five drier January to September are 2015, 2003, 2001, 1939 and 1930. The year is on track to be among the top 10 driest or worst, on record.  

Since the 2020 November’s deluge, the last ten months, December-September, is the seventh driest on record and the lowest since 2015. The period has only returned 65 percent of normal rainfall.

The upcoming three months, November to January, has equal chance of below, near or above normal rainfall. Meanwhile, some of the more reliable models are still forecasting the continuation of below usual rainfall being most likely. Looking at the glass half full, near to above normal rainfall is more likely than not.

WMO Lead Centre for Long-Range Forecast Multi-Model Ensemble is forecasting equal chance of below, near or above normal rainfall for Antigua and Barbuda.

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. However, the rainfall of September did stabilise or eased the droughts a bit.

Our conversion of sea water to fresh water has built drought resilience; 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. Unfortunately, these “evils” are virtually unavoidable, for the foreseeable future.

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 continues and with the rainfall outlook unclear, an end is unforecastable, at this time. Daily water use continues to outstrip production by about one million gallons.

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

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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

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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.

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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.





August Updated Forecast for the 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season

19 08 2021

Dale C. S. Destin |

The forecast for the 2021 hurricane Season continues to call for an active season with the possibility of it being super-hyperactive. The confidence of an above normal season has remained virtually unchanged at 78%. It is also possible that the season could be super hyperactive or well above normal, with numbers reaching the top 10 percentile 1991-2020 base period or current climate period.

The prediction is now for 22 named storms (subtropical storms, tropical storms and hurricanes), with a 70 percent confidence or high confidence of the number ranging between 17 to 28. It is also likely–69 percent chance, that the number of named storms will exceed 19 and be in the top 10 percentile of the current climate period.

My forecast also calls for an accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) index of 188 with a high confidence of the range being 115 to 284. Also predicted are 11 hurricanes with a 70 percent confidence of  the total being 7 to 15, and 5 major hurricanes with high confidence of 3 to 7.

The season could also be well above normal or super hyperactive. There is also a 45% chance of the ACE exceeding 223, the top 10 percentile of the current climate period. Further, there is a massive 69% chance of more than 19 named storms or the number of named storms reaching the top 10 percentile. There is also a 41% chance of more than 11 hurricanes and 45% chance of more than 6 major hurricanes.

If this forecast pans out, this season would be the most active since 2017, in terms of ACE, and the 10th most active on record dating back to 1851. It would also be ranked third for the highest number of named storms, tied for 5th for the most hurricanes and 11th for the most major hurricanes.

If the season turns out to be hyperactive, as is possible, it will rank even higher. Only seven seasons have had a higher ACE than 223; three seasons with more than 19 named storms; four with more than 11 hurricanes and two with more than 6 major hurricanes.

The season initially got off to a “flyer” but became sedate in July. Since the start of August, activity has picked back up, going at a rate of of about one-and-half times the normal season. To date, there have been eight named storms with three becoming hurricanes. A typical season, based on the standard climate period 1991-2020, has 14 named storms, 7 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes.

The main reason for the above normal forecast is the likely weak La Niña conditions or cold El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) during August to October–the peak of the hurricane season.

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2nd Driest May on Record, Serious Drought Continues

23 06 2021

Dale C. S. Destin |

We have just witnessed the second driest May, in Antigua, on record dating back to 1928. It was also the bottom 10 driest March-May and the bottom 4 driest January-May. With such significant rainfall shortage, the meteorological drought continues for Antigua, with a return to serious intensity. Much of the drought impacts are being mask; notwithstanding, the country is feeling it deep in the pocket and models indicate that this will continue for much of the upcoming three months.

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 Caribbean Basin.

The rainfall for May was 17.3 mm (0.68 in), the lowest since 2001, when the country had 6.4 mm (0.25 in). The total for the month was almost unimaginably low at 17 percent of the normal of 101.1 mm (3.98 in). Only eight other Mays have had less than an inch of rain. Overall, it was the 13th driest month of all 1121 on record.

The meteorological spring, March-May, was also very dry. The total of 85.3 mm (3.36 in) was the ninth lowest for the season. The last time we had a drier spring was 2015.  

We continue to witness one of the driest years on record and easily the driest since 2015. The year-to-date total is a meagre 149.1 mm (5.87 in), only 44 percent of the usual rainfall of 341.6 mm (13.45 in). The absent rainfall, 192.5 mm (7.58 in), is more than the annual average for January, February and March combined. Only three other years have had a drier start: 2015 with 140.2 mm (5.52 in); 2001 with 113.0 mm (4.45 in) and 1939 with 131.8 mm (5.19 in).

Our last wet month was November, which was floodingly wet. Since then, the last six months, December-May, is the fourth driest on record and the lowest since 2015. The period has only yielded 53 percent of normal rainfall. Our drying catchments and thirsty brownish landscape bear witness to the missing rainfall.

The upcoming season, July to September, is likely to be drier than normal. The majority of models are forecasting the continuation of deficit rainfall. Hence, the drought is likely to continue. Our largest catchment, Potworks Dam, along with others, could again revert to dry lands and shortcuts for vehicular traffic.

Based on models which correlate our sea surface temperatures, across the tropics, with our rainfall, the medium and long term continue to look brown. This dry season, January-June, is expected to be among the five driest on record. Meanwhile, the year is likely to be drier than usual with a 58 percent chance of below normal rainfall; this is up 12 percent from last month. There is a non-trivial 18 percent probability of the year’s rainfall falling in the bottom 10 percentile.

As the meteorological drought goes or worsens, so go or will the other droughts: agricultural, hydrological and ecological. There is also the growing concern that this may precipitate a socio-economic drought, if it has not already done so. Our utilisation of the ocean around us for fresh water has made us resilient; however, at a very high cost, as potable water from this source cost at least seven times that from surface and ground water.  

Potworks Dam is close to falling below extraction levels. With the rainfall outlook bleak, we could be out of surface water in weeks. Water rationing is imminent, if not already occurring.

Antigua is not alone in experiencing significant rainfall shortages. Much of the Eastern Caribbean remains  thirsty for rainfall. Deficit rainfall is occurring across many places, and it is probable that the it will worsen and or spread to other islands, over the upcoming months, based on recent forecasts, particularly the central Windward Islands to the Dominican Republic. For May, most of the Caribbean Basin had less that 50 percent of the usual rainfall, with some areas receiving less than ONE percent.

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Drought Continues

25 05 2021

Dale C. S. Destin |

With continued below normal rainfall through April, the meteorological drought continues for Antigua; however, it has eased to slight intensity as compared to serious at the end of March. Notwithstanding, we remain in a serious drought with significant cumulative rainfall deficits that are likely to have socio-economic impacts. Models continue to portray a dry scene for the upcoming months.

WMO Lead Centre for Long-Range Forecast Multi-Model Ensemble is forecasting 60-70% likelihood of below normal rainfall for Antigua and Barbuda. Also, below normal rainfall is likely for much of the Caribbean Basin.

We continue to witness the driest start to a year since 2015 and the eighth driest quadrimester for Antigua in a series that dates to 1928. The island-average rainfall of 131.8 mm (5.19 in) represents only 55 percent of the normal total for January to April; hence, 45 percent of the regular stream of water from the heaven was missed and is evident by our thirsty brownish landscape. Further, from the flooding rainfall in November to the end of April (December-April), only 64 percent of the normal rainfall has fallen. This is the 10th lowest on record.

The background is a picture of Potworks Dam, Antigua taken May 3, 2021 by Karen Corbin of the Humane Society.

The rainfall for this April of 38.9 mm (1.53 in) is more than twice the amount fell last April; however, it is the second lowest since 2006. The total was only 51 percent of the usual amount for mid-spring; hence, an unmissable deficit of 49 percent.

There is no discernible respite in the near future. The majority of models are forecasting deficit rainfall to be the order of, at least, the next three months. Thus, the drought is likely to continue. Our catchments could again revert to mud patches and or grasslands, which has virtually become an annual phenomenon.

Based on models which correlate our sea surface temperatures, across the tropics, with our rainfall, the medium and long term look brown. There is a 78 percent chance of the dry season, January to June, will suffer below normal rainfall. Further, there is a 52 percent chance of the dry season rainfall being in the bottom 10 percentile i.e. less than 10 inches, when the average is 16.14 inches. For the year, the forecast is for a 46 percent chance of it being drier than usual, with a non-trivial probability of 19 percent of well below usual, possibly with about a 24 percent deficit in the annual total.

Rainfall projection for Antigua in inches. A for chance of above normal; N for near normal and B for below normal. The background is a picture of Potworks Dam taken May 3, 2021 by Karen Corbin of the Humane Society.
Rainfall projection for Antigua in inches. A for chance of above normal; N for near normal and B for below normal. The background is a picture of Potworks Dam taken May 3, 2021 by Karen Corbin of the Humane Society.

Other droughts generally lag meteorological droughts; it is evident from our catchments that agricultural, hydrological and ecological droughts, to some degree, are also occurring or imminent. There is also the concern that this may precipitate a socio-economic drought. Our utilisation of the ocean around us for fresh water has made us resilient; however, there are still likely to be notable impacts, when the other droughts get underway in earnest.

Image from the Landsat satellite showing the contrasting green landscape of December 9, 2020, one month after the deluge of November 9-10, 2020, compared to the brown drought-ridden landscape of May 2, 2021

Potworks Dam is down to around a quarter. With the rainfall outlook bleak, we could virtually be out of surface water soon. Water rationing is imminent, if not already occurring.

Antigua continues not alone in experiencing significant rainfall shortages. Much of the Eastern Caribbean is having a similar thirst for rainfall, especially for December 2020 to April 2021. Short and long-term droughts continue to evolve across many places, and it is probable that the shortfall in precipitation will worsen and or spread to other islands, particularly the eastern ones, over the upcoming months, based on recent forecasts.

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Drought Worsens to Serious Levels

20 04 2021

Dale C. S. Destin |

With continued below normal rainfall through March, the meteorological drought has worsened to serious levels for Antigua. That is the “good” news, the bad news is that the drought is likely to get worse over the next few months, as below normal rainfall is forecast by most models.

WMO Lead Centre for Long-Range Forecast Multi-Model Ensemble is forecasting 60-70% likelihood of below normal rainfall for Antigua and Barbuda; only two of the 12 models forecast near normal rainfall. Also, below normal rainfall is likely for much of the Caribbean Basin.

This is the driest start to a year since 2015 and the ninth driest first-quarter for Antigua in a series that dates to 1928. The island-average rainfall of 93.0 mm (3.66 in) represents only 57 percent of the normal total for January to March (JFM); hence, 43 percent of the regular flow of water from our skies was missed by our plants, catchments, economy and ecosystems.

The rainfall for March of 29.2 mm (1.15 in) is the worst for the month since 2015. The total was only 63 percent of the usual amount for the first month of spring; hence, a significant deficit of 37 percent.

There is no discernible respite in the foreseeable future. The vast majority of models are forecasting deficit rainfall to be the order of the next six months. Thus, the drought is likely to get worse. Our catchments could again revert to mud patches and or grasslands, which has virtually become an annual phenomenon.

Other droughts generally lag a meteorological drought; however, it is evident from our catchments that agricultural, hydrological and ecological droughts, to some degree, are occurring or imminent. There is also the concern that this may precipitate a socio-economic drought. Our utilisation of the ocean around us for fresh water has made us resilient; notwithstanding, there are still likely to be notable impacts, direct and indirect, when the other droughts get underway in earnest.

The water authority, the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA), has already signal an end to surface water to occur in a few months, that is even more likely than when it was said over a month ago, as rainfall for April has been virtually absent, thus far. Water rationing is imminent, if not already occurring.

Antigua is not alone in experiencing significant first-quarter rainfall deficits. Much of the Eastern Caribbean is having a similar thirst for rainfall. Short and long-term droughts continue to evolve across many places, and it is probable that the shortfall is precipitation will worsen and or spread to most of the Basin over the upcoming months.

Exert from the Caribbean Climate Outlook Forum (CariCOF) Drought Outlook for March 2021

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2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season Early Forecast

12 04 2021

Dale C. S. Destin |

We could have a repeat of the record breaking 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season this year. My early forecast for the 2021 Season is out, and it calls for above normal activity being likely. It predicts the most likely number of named storms (tropical storms and hurricanes) to be 21; however, there is a 70 percent or high confidence of the number ranging between 17 to 30. Recall that we had an unprecedented 30 named storms last year.

My forecast also calls for an accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) index of 184 with a high confidence of the range being 109 to 275. The ACE for the 2020 Season was 185; just one more than is forecast for this year. Also predicted are nine hurricanes with a 70 percent confidence of  the total being 6 to 14 and 5 major hurricanes with high likelihood of a range of 2 to 7.

If this forecast pans out, this season would be the third most active since 2005, in terms of ACE, and the 11th most active in the series dating back to 1851. It would also be ranked third for the highest number of named storms and tied for 11th and 17th for the most major hurricanes and hurricanes respectively.  

According to other forecasts surveyed, the average is for an ACE of 151, 18 named storms, 9 hurricanes and 4 major hurricanes, an above normal season. This is generally consistent with my forecast but with a notable 22 percent less activity (ACE). Notwithstanding, I am very confident in the forecast; last year, my forecast consistently called for more storms than virtually all else and was the only one that indicated that the 2005 record could be broken and that we could get 30 or more named storms. However, regardless of the forecast, you should always prepare the same each season, as it only takes one hurricane to ruin your year and or life.

Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) based on 6 forecasting entities.

Recall that the ACE is the universally accepted metric used to classify the overall activity of a hurricane season. It takes not only the number of named storms into consideration but also their intensities and duration. For example, the 2020 season had a record 30 named storms, eclipsing the record of 28 set in 2005; despite this, the ACE of 185, ranked it as the 10th most active season, eight spots behind 2005, which had an ACE of 250 and nine spots behind 1933–the record most active season with an ACE of 259. With respect to some other notable records, 2005 still holds the record for the most hurricanes with 15, and remains tied with 1961 for the highest number of major hurricanes–7.

The main reasons for the above normal forecasts are the likely above normal sea surface temperatures across the tropical North Atlantic and a cold-neutral El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) during August to October–the peak of the hurricane season.

A typical season, based on the standard climate period 1981-2010, has 12 named storms, 6 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes. Major hurricanes have sustained wind speeds of at least 178 km/h or 111 miles per hour (e.g., Category 3 or higher), according to the Saffir Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. The last Atlantic hurricane season–2020, will be most remembered for the record 30 named storms with Major Hurricanes Laura, Delta, Eta and Iota. Collectively, they accounted for over 300 of the over 400 deaths from tropical cyclones and caused over US$32 billion of the US$51 billion in damage. The season also produced 13 hurricanes and 6 became major hurricanes.

Satellite images for all 30 named storms from the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season. Credit WMO

This forecast will be updated monthly around the 10th of each month until August. The first update will be issued around May 10.

The Atlantic hurricane season officially begins on June 1 and concludes on November 30; nevertheless, in the last five years, there have been preseason tropical cyclones–be prepared!

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Drought is Back

14 03 2021

Dale C. S. Destin |

Drought is back for Antigua. A slight meteorological drought is present as of the end of February. It is most likely to get worse over the next three months, as below normal rainfall is forecast by most models.

The rainfall for winter – December to February (DJF) 2020-2021, was 149.1 mm (5.87 in). This total is deemed below normal and beneath the drought threshold. Usually, DJF yields 225.8 mm (8.89 in) of rainfall, on average; hence, there is over a 75 mm (over 3 in) deficit or a 34 percent shortfall.

Rainfall for Antigua for the period December 2020 to February 2021. Picture in the background is Potworks Dam as of March 3, 2021 courtesy Karen Corbin of the Humane Society.
Rainfall for DJF is well below the slight or worse drought threshold, nearly at moderate drought. Rainfall for this period for Antigua shows no significant trend (black dashed line). Excess rainfall tends to be more extreme than drought rainfall.

The month that is mainly responsible for the scarcity in precipitation is January, which got only 41 percent of the normal amount of 67.3 mm (2.65 in). The rainfall for February was also lower than usual, accounting for 73 percent of the normal amount of 50.0 mm (1.97 in). The rainfall for December was near normal.

The two-month rainfall for January-February (JF) of 63.8 mm (2.51 in) is the lowest since 2001. Thus, the very dry start to the year continues. With this JF ranking the eighth driest on record, only seven other years have had a drier start on record dating back to 1928.

It normally takes a few months for the effects of a meteorological drought to descend to a hydrological drought and cause potable water issues. However, the effects are already manifesting themselves in the lowering of water in catchments. Yesterday, the APUA Business Unit Water Manager – Ian Lewis, said on Observer Radio News that the country has about three to four months of surface water remaining, at current extraction rate.  

We were last in a drought April to October last year. This was a severe drought that was more than meteorological; it resulted in surface catchments transforming into mud patches and then to grass lands. It is unclear, at this stage, whether there will be a repeat of similar rainfall absence this year.

The dry conditions last year, resulted in water rationing and almost a 100 percent reliance on desalinated water. Ian Lewis has already indicated that the absence of notable rainfall over the coming months would usher in return of the water conservation schedule better known as water rationing.

Antigua is not alone in experiencing notable rainfall deficits in the wake of winter. Much of the Caribbean is suffering a similar fate, from a drier than usual dry season, thus far. Short and long-term droughts are evolving across a number of islands and there is the potential of several others joining this drought-list.

Rainfall anomaly (departure form average) in mm for the Caribbean, based on CMORPH data

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Very Dry Start to 2021

16 02 2021

Dale C. S. Destin |

Antiguans have just witnessed the driest start to the year in over a generation. January 2021 was the driest January since 1977 for Antigua, with an island average of 27.4 mm (1.08 in).

Usually January yields 67.3 mm (2.65 in) of rain; however, this time, the total was down by 59%. This puts the rainfall for the month in the well below normal category – the bottom 10 percentile of the most recent climate period – 1991 to 2020.

Such low rainfall is rare for January. How rare? Once in every 27 years, on average, which translates to a 3.7 percent chance of such a low total annually. Usually, there is over a 96 percent chance of the month producing more rainfall.

From a historical standpoint, this is the third driest January on record dating back to 1928. Only January 1977 and 1931 have been drier. January 1931 is the driest on record with 16.3 mm (0.64 in) and January 2006 is the wettest with 2017.7 mm (8.57 in).

Despite the trickle of rainfall for January 2021, the rainfall for the month is usually the most reliable of all months with the lowest variability index of 0.83 or moderate, for the climate period 1991-2020. All other months have a variability index of 1 to 2.37 or moderate to extreme. The variability is obtained by dividing the difference in rainfall of the 90th percentile and the 10th percentile by the median.

Notwithstanding the drier than normal January 2021, the rainfall for January remains without any significant (statistical) trend. The mean rainfall over the past seven climates has not changed significantly, ranging between 65.8 to 79.5 mm (2.59 to 3.13 in), over the period 1928 to 2020.

As we look forward, the rainfall for February is lagging average by about 38 percent, and even if the averaged is reached, there is the high likelihood for rainfall to drop to drought levels by the end of February. About another 35 mm (1.38 in) of rain is needed to stave off drought. This or more rainfall for February 17-28 has only occurred 10 times in the last 55 years – 18 percent of the time.

January is unlikely to be this dry again under the next 27 years. By then, we will be at the middle of the 21st Century – millennials would have reach senior citizen age.

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The Great 1843 Mother of All Caribbean Earthquakes

8 02 2021

Dale C. S. Destin |

At 10:37 am, February 8, 1843 – 178 years ago today, the mother of all Caribbean earthquakes struck the region. This is believed to be strongest of all Caribbean earthquakes, ever reported. Dubbed the “The great 1843 earthquake” by Beauducel and Feuillet of the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, it killed more than 1500 people and perhaps up to 6000, most in Guadeloupe, and caused catastrophic damage.  

Earthquake event of 8 February 1843, where black star, southeast of Antigua, indicates epicenter from Feuillard [1985]. Thick dashed lines, with roman numerals between, indicate approximate isoseists – equal earthquake intensity. Dashed areas show the approximate size of the ruptured zones estimated by using the Wells and Coppersmith [1994] relation between rupture length and magnitude. See Natalie Feuillet et al

The powerful earthquake, with an estimated magnitude of 8.5, struck the Caribbean, with epicentre between Antigua and Guadeloupe. Different sources have it centre in slightly different places, which is not unusual; however, all have it within 50 miles of the above-mentioned islands.

The monster quake is credited with the total destruction of the Guadeloupe city of  Pointe-à-Pitre. What the shaking did not demolish directly, fire sparked by it consumed the rest. Eyewitness accounts and newspaper reports painted a very dismal picture of the aftermath of this earth-shattering quake, which caused damage throughout most of the Eastern Caribbean. Here is an account of damage to Antigua, according to an 1843 report by Captain of the ship – Royal Mail Steam Packet Dee, as cited by José Grases G. 1990 and obtained from the The University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre (UWI-SRC) website:

This island has suffered most severely, the whole of the churches and mills throughout the island being a heap of ruins. The organ in the Church of St. John’s totally destroyed; the Dockyard at  English Harbour is sunk considerably, many parts being under water, the whole of the  stone houses in a complete ruinous state, the walls partly or wholly down; the water tanks containing nearly 11,000 tons of water burst with an  awful crash; the earthquake lasted about 4 minutes. Mr. Hart, Clerk in charge of the Dockyard, English Harbour, states that 3 clocks in the  neighbourhood  stopped  at  10h:  40M:  a.m. Precise accounts had not  been received from the  interior. It is ascertained 40 lives had been lost – fears were entertained it was short of the actual loss. The Governor’s House (Dow’s  Hill) is partially destroyed with nearly all its furniture; the  Ridge Barracks much damaged; the Custom House, Court House, and Wesleyan Meeting House destroyed.”

No photo description available.
Damage from the 1974 Antigua earthquake. The 1843 earthquake was 10 times stronger. Photos by UWI-SRC

This earthquake, which ranks among the top 20 strongest ever in the world, was said to have been felt as far away as New York, USA. It was probably a megathrust earthquake – the most powerful kinds. It was up to 10 times stronger than the infamous 1974 Antigua earthquake and up to 32 times stronger than the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

It must be noted that there are conflicting estimates of the magnitude of this catastrophic event with, at least, one expert indicating that the magnitude was as low as 7.5 to 8. I am more persuaded  by the 8.5 magnitude estimate, since this appears to be the most recent finding – Natalie Feuillet et al., and also supported by, at least, two other experts. In some literature it is listed at magnitude 8.3. At any rate, it was not your garden variety earthquake by any stretch of the imagination.

According to the UWI-SRC, earthquakes are a daily reality across the Caribbean, especially the northeast Caribbean where hundreds occur annually, although most are not felt.

Over the years, the UWI-SRC has expressed concerned over the potential for an 1843 or 1974 caliber earthquake impacting the northeast Caribbean. Although earthquakes, especially large ones, are virtually unpredictable, the public should be prepared, as moderate to significant sized earthquakes may impact the region at any time. Individual, community and national measures should always be in place to mitigate the impacts of earthquakes.

For more on seismic activity in the Eastern Caribbean visit: UWI-SRC. Also please continue to follow me for all things weather and climate via TwitterFacebook and Instagram. Share this blog, if you found it useful.





High Surf Events This Week

27 01 2021

Dale C. S. Destin|

Much higher than usual surfs are expected to pound the shorelines of much of the Eastern Caribbean. One episode is getting underway and will last for 24 to 36 hours. A second episode will occur over the weekend. These surfs are expected to cause the threat level to rise to high for life, livelihood, property and infrastructure of those using or living on the affected coastlines and there is the potential for extensive impacts.

Past Surf Event - James Beach
Fort James Beach, Antigua, During a Past High Surf Event

Based on the expected swells, which will transition to surfs when they reach near shore, surfs over 3 metres (10 feet) are projected to take place at times. Advisories and warnings are expected for a number of islands.

The first hazardous surf event is likely to subside by Friday for most areas but rise again over the weekend. The second episode of dangerous surfs will start across the Bahamas on Friday and reach the Eastern Caribbean by Saturday.

It is the surf season, when powerful winter storms come off North America, often packing the equivalent of tropical cyclone winds, sometimes reaching winds equal to hurricane strength. These systems frequently track across the “pond” from the United states to Europe, all the while pushing large swells toward the Caribbean and elsewhere, resulting in hazardous conditions along mainly north and east-facing coastlines of the islands.

5-day plot - Swell Height at 41044
High Swells Heading for the Eastern Caribbean to Become High Surfs or Breaking Waves Near Shorelines

The coming high surf events will be due to a series of winter storms. The one that will cause the surf episode over the weekend will be a storm, whose pressure drop by 24 millibar or more in 24-hours. Such winter storm systems are called bomb-cyclones.

There is no strong wind concern for any of the islands. The concern is for mainly Atlantic coastlines for especially the Northeast Caribbean – from Puerto Rico to the northern Windward Islands.

Potential impacts include but not limited to:

  • loss of life;
  • injuries to beachgoers;
  • salt-water intrusion and disruptions to potable water from desalination
  • disruptions to marine recreation and businesses;
  • beach erosion and
  • sea water splashing onto low lying coastal roads.

All should be very wary about bathing in the impacted areas. Personally, although I can swim, I do not plan to go to the beach during the times the surfs are expected to be higher than usual. Going rock fishing is not advisable.

The concern is not only for high surfs, but also rip currents. Rip currents are powerful channels of water flowing quickly away from shore, which occur most often at low spots or breaks in the sandbar and near structures such as groins, jetties and piers. High surf events make for very conducive conditions for rip currents.

If caught in a rip current, relax and float. Don’t swim against the current. If able, swim in a direction following the shoreline. If unable to escape, face the shore and call or wave for help.

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Extreme Winds and Seas to Usher in the New Year

28 12 2020

Dale C. S. Destin |

Extreme wind and marine events are forecast for this week across the northeast Caribbean, including Antigua and Barbuda. The howling wind event will take place Thursday – NEW YEAR’S EVE, through Saturday – January 2, whereas the life-threatening marine event will take place New Year’s Eve night through Sunday – January 3. Warnings and advisories for strong winds, rough seas and high surfs will be required for most islands.

Northeast Caribbean: Estimated max 3-second gusts; max sustained 10-minute winds; average of the top 10% of significant wave heights and average of top 10% of swells

The angry winds and seas could cause notable socio-economic impacts to the islands. Similar actions by nature, earlier this year, caused ships to turn away from Antigua and Barbuda and cancelled ferry services. There were also reports of LIAT aborting landings in some islands; banana trees being downed in some countries and power outage in some areas.

The kick-off of these unwelcome but not unusual events is expected on Thursday. The pressure gradient will rapidly and significantly steepen, which will become evident by the closeness of the isobars – lines of equal pressure, on our weather maps. The closer the isobars, the steeper the pressure gradient, the stronger the winds and vice versa.

Gale-force gusts, the equivalent to tropical storm-force gusts, are likely – gusts exceeding 78 km/h (over 48 mph). Otherwise, the winds will frequently be above 40 km/h (over 25 mph). The maximum sustained 10-minute wind speeds will likely reach around 50 km/h (31 mph), whereas the maximum sustained 1-minute winds will reach around 56 km/h (35 mph). The strongest winds are forecast for New Year’s Day, especially across open waters, windward coastal areas and elevated places. The prevailing wind direction will be northeast.

Visualization of wind gusts (shaded) wind direction (short solid lines) and isobars (long solid lines with numbers – pressure in millibars) – December 31 2020 to January 4 2021

As the winds go, so go the seas. The tumultuous winds will cause the seas to rise and become extremely threatening – very rough in open waters on Thursday through Sunday. Significant wave heights could peak at or above 4 metres (over 13 feet), locally exceeding 5 metres (near 17 feet). The highest seas are also expected on New Year’s Day. These seas will be non-navigational for small craft and even some non-small-craft operators.

Significant wave heights according to the ECMWF WAM Model – December 31 2020 to January 5 2021

High swells and surfs (breaking waves) are also forecast for Sunday. Swells in excess of 2.5 metres (over 8 feet) and surfs in excess of 3 metres (over 10 feet) are likely. These breaking waves will make for very dangerous conditions for beachgoers and others using the coastlines.

The events will make for a high threat to the life and livelihood and property and infrastructure of mariners and users of the nearshore areas. There is also the potential for extensive impacts including the following:

  • Loss of life
  • Injuries
  • Damage or loss of boats and fishing equipment
  • Saltwater intrusion and disruptions to potable water from desalination
  • Coastal flooding from sea water splashing onto low lying coastal roads
  • Sea search and rescue disruptions
  • Cancellations to transportation (especially by sea)
  • Scarcity of sea food
  • Disruption or cancellation to sporting and recreation events (especially marine activities)
  • Businesses and economic losses

To be safe, mariners should stay in or near port and beachgoers should stay out of the waters for affected coastlines. Also, residents should secure light and loose objects, which can be blown away, and caution should be taken when driving. The anticipated blustery winds could make some outdoor activities uncomfortable, if not outright dangerous. These winds can also create dangerous fallen or blowing objects.

The turbulent winds will unsettle the atmosphere, resulting in brief heavy showers. However, rainfall accumulations will only be of minimal concern, at most.

These events will affect virtually the entire Caribbean Basin, at different times. They will start across the Bahamas and the Western Caribbean on Tuesday and reach the northeast Caribbean on Thursday. Then, they will spread across the southern Caribbean by Friday – New Year’s Day. The extreme events will come to an end by Sunday, January 3, 2021, although seas will likely still be hazardous for some areas, beyond Sunday.

At times, it may feel like there is a tropical storm in the area, but I can ashore you that there is none. The hurricane season remains over.

Check and monitor your local forecasts, from your national weather service, for details specific to your location. This is a relatively broad scale view; hence, the numbers WILL change either way.

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