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Unpredictable Hurricanes: A Look at Past Storms and Future Preparedness in Antigua

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  • Antigua and Barbuda’s history with hurricanes, surviving major storms of the past.
  • The unpredictability of tropical storms, using examples of FRANCES and IVAN.
  • Lessons learned and plans for improved hurricane preparedness in Antigua’s marine community.

The people in the vicinity of the islands of Antigua and Barbuda breathed a huge sigh of relief when it possibly appears that we would again survive the hurricane season without a “major strike”. After all in the latter part of the 90’s we had taken the brunt of more than our share of powerful hurricanes. Especially when you consider that in the “ good old days
“we used to sail around on charter throughout all of the islands during the
summer time. Add to that the lack of any reliable storm forecasts and it’s hard
to believe how fortunate we were. Anyway, this season my 9 o’clock weather
broadcast on English Harbour Radio frightened the daylights out of most
yachtsmen around Antigua when I started talking about FRANCES (which turned out
to be a bit of a non event in this island despite being a category 5 hurricane
at times) and of course JEANNE. I would be the first one to admit we were very
lucky with that particular lady. But on the whole, we only had a succession of
fairly moderate tropical waves effecting Antigua.

Now having done this for something like half a life time, I am forced into saying
that any tropical storms seem to really have a mind of their own. Take FRANCES
for example. On August the 23rd we reported that a very strong
tropical wave was 575 miles WSW of the Cape Verde Islands heading west at 15
knots. On the evening of that day it became tropical Depression Number 6 and
was expected to further strengthen and turn to a more west northwesterly
heading well before arrival in the vicinity of the Lesser Antilles. This went
on for more than a week with the National Hurricane Centre in Florida repeating
that FRANCES was “about to turn to a more northerly course.”

Then on the morning of August the 30th FRANCES was expected to become a
Category 5 Hurricane and was doggedly heading straight at the Leewards. It was
time to get all the boats away in the mangroves, and prepare for very serious
hurricane conditions in English Harbour. Well, she kept coming right at us as a
Category 5 hurricane then, with the abruptness of a lady drill sergeant and
being only a day away the damn thing made a fairly sharp turn to the right and
even went north of the Virgins! So…we were really lucky.

Looking back over the years, the number of hurricanes that didn’t do what they were
supposed to do frankly amazes me. Very recently we all know that Hurricane IVAN
screamed over the southern end of Grenada doing untold damage. Even when it was
quite close to that island, the knowledgeable ones down there were saying that
it would never come…and not to worry. Well, have you seen the photos of Grenada
since IVAN?

Strange Friendship After Ivan
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According to a friend of ours whose family lives in Grenada, very little preparations
were made by the householders and residents based on the fact that nothing too
bad had happened for a very long while. So for what it is worth we in Antigua
are already working on a plan for the next hurricane season, which will make
English Harbour as storm proof as possible. Having been here since 1957 the
only damage I have had to my various boats was in hurricane LUIS in 1995 when
my Dehler 34 HIGHTIDE was badly knocked about by another bigger yacht that was
insecurely moored.

But the point of all this is that crafty old Nelson believed English Harbour to be
as safe as anywhere in the island chain… if the right preparations are
correctly carried out, and a limit to the total number of yachts is adhered
too. By the way Captain Hugh Bailey’s new hurricane lay up facility with deep
pits into which each yacht is placed should become the way to go for all of the
islands. If you want proof of this just pop down to poor little Grenada and see
what remains of her marine community.

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So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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