Hurricanes can be tricky customers. They can change course and intensity in very short order. Not only that but it also became evident, while Hurricane Earl was brushing past the BVI, that the general public and even radio commentators and meteorologists don't always have a good understanding of the local geography or direction and velocity of the wind. One expert, while advising on the forecast for Anegada said that the island could expect winds of 110 mph and … as much as 125 mph at higher elevations! What elevations? The island is 28-ft high at its highest point. Perhaps he was wishing to notify the boobies roosting in the tallest palm trees.
Approaching hurricanes should always be closely monitored and when a tropical storm intensifies often the electrical power is shut off to lessen potential damage. At this time Charlie, sitting in the gloom of a candle or two, turns to the local radio station for updates and to hear listeners' observations and comments. As the storm approached, the northeast wind became stronger and stronger and, when it was north of the islands, the winds backed to the west and southwest. One caller said breathlessly, "another storm coming from de west." Then, as the winds clocked to the south, another caller exclaimed animatedly that "de storm now south of de islands." The moderators of the talk show began a discussion on the wind direction when another caller said, "'Tis de backside that does produce a powerful wind." There was a short silence and then Charlie remembers a muffled chuckle. Was the caller on topic or was he advising the listeners on the effects of a poor diet? The talk show hosts quickly changed the subject and thankfully another caller came on and advised listeners of someone's roof that had blown off.
It was about this time that a segment was introduced advising of harbours suitable for vessels and giving depths at the approach and controlling depths in the anchorages. Talk about locking the stable door after the horse has bolted. The call-in program lasted for a couple of days and when the storm was diminishing callers kept praising the wonderful commentators for the 'great job' they had done. Although they stayed on the air for long periods and gave solace and comfort to some they definitely need a better understanding of the nature of hurricanes.
Julian Putley is the author of 'The Drinking Man's Guide to the BVI', 'Sunfun Calypso', and 'Sunfun Gospel'.