Region to get only temporary reprieve from heat stress
Caribbean weather forecasters are warning that while the region is beginning to feel some reprieve from the unusually hot weather over the last few months, the heat will be back within the next three months.
Climatologist at the Barbados-based Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH), Dr. Cédric Van Meerbeeck, noted that the Caribbean is accustomed to heat, but warned at the 2023-24 Dry Season Caribbean Climate Outlook Forum (CariCOF) that the higher temperatures are negatively impacting residents of the region.
“Cyclones and heat are hazards that we feel, that we have felt or that we know about. Now, heat, we also understand, is not just a normal thing in the Caribbean, it actually negatively affects us,” he told delegates.
“So it’s time to stop thinking that the only thing about our climate that affects us is rain, flooding and hurricanes,” he said, adding “we know that there are other things that are looming and that have started affecting us.
“Now who cares about sargassum? Who has to deal with Sargassum, right?” he said in highlighting the point, calling attention to the seaweed that is a major problem on some Caribbean beaches, affecting tourism, fisheries and recreation.
“There’s also seasonality of Sargassum bleaching in the Caribbean, but that only started in 2011; there are other hazards that we also need to look at.”
Van Meerbeeck said that to sum up climatological conditions in the region over the last few months, he would say, “recently it was hot.
“I don’t think there’s anybody doubting that anymore,” he said, noting the accuracy of the forecast issued at the wet season CariCOF, in May, which coincides with the hurricane season.
In May, CIMH predicted 17 named storms, seven of which were likely to become hurricanes with four of them being major storms this year.
However, Van Meerbeeck said then that the “boxing game” between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans as well as Saharan dust over the Atlantic would determine the level of tropical cyclone activity.
He said on Wednesday that there were more tropical cyclones this season than usual.
“But we were fortunate enough this year that most of them avoided the islands. We know that’s not always the case.
“But you also know that it takes just one,” he said, speaking in a country where five years earlier, Hurricane Maria destroyed 90 per cent of the housing stock and left loss and damage amounting to 226 per cent of the island’s gross domestic product (GDP).
“We are out of the hurricane season officially at the end of this month. But that doesn’t mean that there can’t be any impacting hurricane or tropical cyclone,” Van Meerbeeck said, adding that if Caribbean people did not think about the heat until last year, they certainly did so this year.
The climatologist noted that as the dry season progresses, rainfall decreases but added that no heat waves are expected over the next three months.
“But lo and behold, if you look at the second part of the dry season, heat will return. It will return. Again, it will return,” Van Meerbeeck said.
He emphasised that the heat will not return merely because the region would not be yet into the wet or hurricane season, adding that for some Caribbean countries, such as in Belize, the driest part of the year is also the hottest.
Van Meerbeeck said that in some parts of the region, there will be less water than is usually the case for that time of year, including in some parts of the Guianas, Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago, which are expected to see drier-than-usual soils.
“There are places where we are seeing some concern growing and that is Belize, Cuba and Puerto Rico,” he said, referring to stress on water resources.
Van Meerbeeck said flooding has a high potential to occur, particularly in the Guinas -Suriname and French Guina – because, as opposed to the Caribbean islands and Belize, the Guianas are entering their secondary wet season.
He said that while the Caribbean knows that the dry season is usually like, this year, the Atlantic Ocean was particularly hot “and we felt the impacts of that because heat stress being a factor of both higher temperatures, but also more moisture, which comes from the ocean”.
Van Meerbeeck likened the situation to sweating as a cooling mechanism in humans, noting that while the Atlantic Ocean is cooling, it is still going to remain warmer than usual.
“I repeat is gonna remain warmer than usual,” Van Meerbeeck said, adding that a warm Atlantic Ocean means hotter temperatures in the air and more humidity.
“So towards the end of the dry season, the heat season is gonna say, ‘Hello I’m back.'”
He said that on the other hand, the Pacific Ocean is suggesting the first strong El Nino since 2014-2016.
“Now I know my friend from Antigua can tell you that water availability in Antigua and Barbuda was a pretty big problem in those years,” he said, returning to the “boxing match” analogy he used in the May CariCof.
“There are some ways in which the Atlantic Ocean temperatures and the Pacific Ocean are having kind of a boxing game. And yes, both are the top the top fighters on earth.
“But you don’t know prior who wins. So what we’ve experienced in the past few months is that the Atlantic dominated. Both of them bring more heat to the Caribbean. But it was not particularly dry and why because we have a lot of moisture in our atmosphere thanks to the evaporation from a warm Atlantic Ocean.
“What it looks like for the next few months is the boxing game was almost one was almost knocked out for El Niño with El Niño is fighting back.”
The climatologist said the hazard that the region needs to look out for during the dry season is drought, adding that the forecast is for more rain than usual during the second three months of the dry season.
Van Meerbeeck said this could lead to flooding in some places, depending on the intensity of the rainfall.
“Now unfortunately here we only have a forecast map for the next three months, not for the three months after that,” he said, urging the region to pay attention to the information from their local meteorological services.
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