Even though forecasters are predicting a near-normal 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, local weather officials are diligently keeping their ???eyes to the sky’ to ensure Barbados has early warning, should any major weather system come calling.
The Barbados Meteorological Service, under the aegis of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management, is the department tasked with tracking any weather system which may affect the island, and keeping disaster management officials abreast of any such threat.
Its Operations Centre, which runs on a 24-hour basis, is located at the Grantley Adams International Airport, where highly trained staff monitor, observe and analyse daily weather activity and climate conditions for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean.
Acting Senior Meteorologist of the Barbados Meteorological Service, Clairmonte Williams, explained that tracking weather conditions was not limited to the hurricane season but was a daily process.
He said the department was also responsible for providing weather data to a variety of clients, including the civil aviation sector.?? Every hour meteorological staff observe and assess weather conditions around Barbados to ensure there were no surprises for flights entering or leaving the island.
"Our job is twofold. On the one hand, we have responsibility for providing aeronautical meteorological services, that is, weather related services to the aviation sector, whether it is to the Civil Aviation Department – Air Traffic Services, airport management or airline operators and flight crews. On the other hand, we also have responsibility for providing weather information to the public at large.?? This is done through our routine daily weather forecasts, or as specially disseminated bulletins in the event of adverse conditions such as watches or warnings in the event of an approaching hurricane or tropical storm; or any warnings as it relates to inland flooding. We also concentrate on sea conditions around the island," Mr. Williams explained.
The Met Office employs the latest technology to monitor and assess weather systems, with Director (Ag), Hampden Lovell, revealing that a new satellite system and Automatic Weather Station were recently installed.
"The latter takes readings of the different atmospheric elements, temperature, pressure and wind, to name a few, and the information is displayed within the office. We also have the added assistance of the radar at Castle Grant, St. Joseph. We had a few challenges with this piece of equipment in the initial stages, but it is now up and running; and that can play a vital role in our forecasting, especially for the short-term.
"People have the idea that as long as you have the radar, then that is all, and you should be able to predict anything. However, the radar is really only a short-range forecasting tool. It goes out to a maximum range of 400 kilometres, so if you have a storm in the middle of the Atlantic, obviously you are not going to pick it up with the radar," he said.
Mr. Lovell explained that there were many variables to consider when predicting weather patterns for small islands such as Barbados; however, he stressed that his office uses all of the tools at its disposal to ensure the island can effectively forecast any inclement weather.
"Here in the Eastern Caribbean, we have very small islands which are relatively close to each other. One little shift or ???kink’ in a system can mean it missing one island and even hitting another. So, forecasting in the tropics is difficult, but we use all the technology available and I think we are doing a pretty good job," he maintained.
In an effort to keep in tune with current forecasts, the Met Office works in tandem with agencies such as the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the umbrella body for all meteorological services, and the National Hurricane Centre (NHC).
In relation to the NHC, a hurricane committee meeting is held each year, where all aspects pertaining to the upcoming season are discussed, even the naming of storms. The last conference was held in April this year.
"There is a whole lot of discussion by this committee, and there is a hurricane operations plan.?? So if there is a hurricane… we coordinate with them and through that, we are able to come up with our watches and warnings as the system comes across," Mr. Lovell pointed out.
He continued: "Also coming out of that committee, Barbados has responsibility for Dominica and St. Vincent. So, we coordinate with them along with the NHC to send out watches and warnings for those two islands."
The tracking carried out by the NHC in Miami, Florida, involves taking data from all of the territories, and in turn, this information is fed into a computer system, where models on weather patterns are projected.
"In recent times, the tracking of storms and systems has improved tremendously. What has been the challenge, to date, is the actual intensification. They have not gotten a full handle on that as yet because some of these systems develop quicker than expected. Tomas would have been a good example of that," Mr. Lovell said.
The Director also had some advice for Barbadians who, due to the forecasts of a milder season, may become complacent about their hurricane preparedness.
"You don’t want people to focus on numbers, whether it will be higher than normal or otherwise. The fact is that any tropical wave coming across the Atlantic is a potential tropical storm or hurricane. So, whether or not we are expecting a milder than usual year, we at the Met Office will treat each tropical wave as though it is a potential hazard….I caution you with the word milder because it only take one big storm to cause serious damage to the whole Eastern Caribbean," he said.
The Meteorological Service remains the first and most critical line of defence against any inclement weather system, which could affect Barbados; and it will be keeping a close eye on the weather conditions to ensure the island is not caught off guard by any approaching system.??