Same time every year.
Often family and friends ask me what it is like to live in a country in the hurricane belt. As we are in the middle of the hurricane season, let me give you a few facts first.
The season starts 1 June and ends 30 November, so it is hurricane season 6 months out of the year. There are talks about bringing the start forward to mid-May with the ongoing climate change, as there have been storms as early as May in the past six years. Officially though, no changes have been made so far to adjust the official season.
Most storms start off the coast of West Africa and slowly work their way to the Caribbean and beyond. Fueled by the warm water of the Atlantic and the warm air, they develop into a hurricane. That is also where various meteorological institutes start tracking these weather systems. Please note I am not a meteorologist, so this is a simplified version.
They all have names.
Did you know that every storm and hurricane has a name? Their names are published before the start of the season and are alternately boys and a girl’s names. That is also the time when the US-based National Hurricane Center issues a prediction. And, of course, things change as the season progresses, yet their general statement about an above or below average season seems to be quite accurate.
The NHC discontinues the names of storms and hurricanes that have caused significant devastation. The NHC even has an overview on the website of those names. I also follow local and regional institutes like Caribbean Online Weather and Dominica Met on Facebook.
So, what can you do to prepare?
Even though no one can stop storms from happening or change their pathway, there are certain things you can do to prepare—things you can do in advance, and others when there is an actual storm approaching.
When the season is there, both the government and organizations like Red Cross start reminding people to stock up and get things in order at your home. Stock up on tinned food and other non-perishables, basically food that does not need to be refrigerated, as all food will perish fairly quickly once the power goes out. It made me realize how essential a fridge is, especially in a tropical climate like ours.
Make sure you have candles, matches, flashlights and batteries, mosquito repellent, and bug spray. Am emergency radio, mine works on solar and regular power and also has a handle to crank it up. Power banks for your phone, and a generator, sadly I don’t have the space for one at the moment. A raincoat, which I still have to buy. I do have several umbrellas, fortunately. And decent boots or hiking shoes, as there will be debris everywhere and flip-flops could be unsafe to walk.
I have a hurricane container where I keep everything in one easy-to-access spot. Store your essential documents in a Ziploc bag. And make sure things like matches, lighters, batteries, etc., are in Ziplocs as well, to prevent them from getting wet as much as possible. Someone once showed me a headlight that cyclists use; I will look for battery-operated or, even better, a solar one; it keeps your hands free. A referee whistle in case you get caught somewhere, and people have to come and look for you.
My narrow escape and where it led to.
Maria was the last major hurricane to hit Dominica in September 2017. We have been fortunate so far, giving us time to rebuild, which continues to this day. Even though I moved to Dominica in November 2016, I was not on the island because my mom had just passed away. You can read an excerpt of my adventures from when I returned here.
So, yes, I narrowly escaped the devastating power of Hurricane Maria, yet I lost almost all of my possessions. My family and friends were happy I was safe in the Netherlands. I have to confess I had mixed feelings about it; part of me felt I should have been in Dominica. I remember soaking up every tiny bit of information I could find online, as communication was impossible for days.
All things happen for a reason, and often we find out what that reason is later on. In this instance, it is evident that I was supposed to be in the Netherlands. So, I was able to set up the Breadfruit House Dominica Foundation.
Yes, it is hurricane season again.
Nobody looks forward to it, of course not. Especially nowadays when climate change seems to fuel more and notably heavier and more intense storms. The geographic location and the geological nature of our island give us the stunning natural beauty we have. The soil is very fertile; everything grows here, including weeds. And the humid climate nourishes the rainforest as well as the many crops our farmers grow here. The sun does the rest.
That same position on the globe presents us with the challenges of a hurricane season. The last one has caused a lot of traumas, both for adults and children. I recently was part of a workshop for children. The idea was to draw and write about their experiences during and after the storm. And even though it was nearly 4 years ago, the memories are still very vivid.
Life goes on like it does the other 6 months, yet people are encouraged to prepare as much as possible in advance. You cannot live in fear for 6 months of the year; that is not healthy.
When a storm approaches.
I remember a friend telling me that after hurricane Maria passed, she started cooking all the food in the fridge to preserve it as much as possible. That brings me to another essential item, cooking gas because, in Dominica, we cook with gas cylinders. So, make sure you have 1 or maybe 2 full cylinders, as it could be a while before you can purchase new ones again.
Make sure you have enough cash; ATMs won’t work, and banks could be closed for some time. If you have a car, fill up the tank. Have your first aid kit fully stocked, clear porches and gardens from things that can fly around and cut tree branches if necessary.
Make sure you have enough water stored; usually, water is the first to be cut off. I have a gravity water filter, which I use all the time, not only when a storm is approaching. Charge all your equipment, phone, laptop, power banks. Make sure you have enough batteries, candles, etc. And make sure you did not eat your tinned food; it does happen to me sometimes.
It is hurricane season once again.
While I am writing this Blog, we are at the peak of the season. And the Atlantic has suddenly woken up. So far, we have just had some extra rain and wind from storms in the area. Fingers crossed; the peak is dwindling around mid-October. Keeping in mind that, despite predictions and monitoring, nobody knows what will happen until that moment when the season is over.
One last remark, this is, of course, my view on things. I have never experienced a hurricane, and I hope I won’t have to for a very long time. It is all part of living in Dominica, the island that I am proud to call home. Where I live and work, make friends, network and above all the island where I am building my Breadfruit House Dominica Foundation.
From the Nature island,