The 2023 Atlantic hurricane season officially begins today and T&T, like every other nation in this region, should be alert and prepared for the weather events likely to develop over the next five months.
Complacency can be very dangerous, particularly now that climate change has increased the potential for torrential rainfall with accompanying strong winds that can inflict property damage, threatening lives and livelihoods.
By now, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) and the Tobago Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) should be fully mobilised for whatever this season may send our way. However, the responsibility to be prepared also extends to every citizen, particularly those residing in vulnerable parts of the country.
While one prediction is for a slightly below-average year with 13 named storms, six hurricanes, and three major hurricanes, the team at the University of Arizona, well known for the accuracy of their forecasts, are expecting a busy season with 19 named storms, nine hurricanes and five major hurricanes.
Usually, these are matters that don’t generate much interest or concern in T&T, where experiences with storms have been so few and far apart that most people alive today have never experienced a destructive hurricane here.
The last time it happened was nine decades ago, in an era when hurricanes were not named. Accounts of the “Hurricane of 1933” show that the storm formed on June 24 and by June 27, had devastated several parts of south Trinidad.
That Category 2 hurricane, which struck with sustained winds of about 137 km/h, caused an estimated $3 million in damage, left thousands homeless and inflicted severe damage on two pillars of the local economy at the time — the cocoa and oil industries. Among the 13 people who lost their lives were some who drowned when their boats sank.
In the years since, only a handful of storms have made landfall here, mainly because T&T lies south of most of the historical hurricane tracks.
However, this country is not immune to natural disasters and has had the experience in recent years of catastrophic weather events caused not by the storms that develop in the Atlantic at this time of year, but by prolonged periods of thunderstorm activity.
Thousands of citizens were directly affected in October 2018, when an active Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) dumped seven days of rain on our islands, causing widespread severe flash flooding.
Although there was no loss of life, there was widespread damage when rivers in Caroni, Diego Martin and Maraval breached their banks. The most catastrophic flooding occurred in Greenvale, La Horquetta, while Sangre Grande experienced the worst flooding in 50 years.
Five years later, with memories of that disaster still fresh, there is cause for concern about the potential for disaster in the many flood and landslip-prone parts of the country, such as Wharwell Road, Tableland, where, just a few days ago, four houses tumbled down a precipice and two are now on the brink of collapse into that chasm.
Many other communities face similar perils, underscoring the need for a higher level of vigilance and more focus on disaster mitigation measures in the weeks and months until the end of the hurricane season on November 30.
This is not a matter that T&T should treat lightly.