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Published 23rd March 2009, 12:55pm

Every year, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the international meteorological community celebrate World Meteorological Day; the theme in 2009 is "Weather, climate and the air we breathe". The theme is particularly appropriate at a time when communities around the globe, including the Cayman Islands are struggling to increase their effectiveness in preventing and mitigating natural disasters, of which 90 per cent are directly related to weather, climate and water hazards.

This year the celebration falls on March 23rd.

In 2008 the Cayman Islands were impacted by Hurricane Paloma, the second strongest November hurricane on record.

The year before in August 2007, the Cayman Islands narrowly missed the full impact of Hurricane Dean. Hurricane Dean was the seventh most intense Atlantic hurricane ever recorded. In 2005 the most intense hurricane on record, Hurricane Wilma formed 220 miles East South East of Grand Cayman and passed to the South of the Cayman Islands. And of course in 2004, the 9th most intense hurricane recorded, Hurricane Ivan raked the southern coast of Grand Cayman and caused large scale property damage.

The recent pattern seems to indicate we are in period of more intense and more frequent hurricanes in our area, and whether this increased activity is linked to the El-Nino-Southern Oscillation, or the possible effects of global warming, it emphasizes the need for preparedness and planning.

The Cayman Islands Government recognized this need when they formed Hazard Management Cayman Islands, a dedicated agency with responsibilities for preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery. Hazard Management Cayman Islands deals with all hazards including natural events such as hurricanes but also man made disasters and threats. They also have responsibility for maintaining National Hazard Management plans.

In recent years improvements have been made in storm surge modeling and flood maps have been produced for the Cayman Islands.

These are important steps because the information helps to better inform both the general population and decision makers. It is also relevant with the increasing world wide acceptance of the threat posed by global warming, particularly for low-lying islands which flood such as the Cayman Islands.

The vast majority of scientists now regard global warming as a reality. Multidisciplinary research from the International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2008 provides new evidence of the widespread effects of global warming in the Polar Regions. Snow and ice are declining in both Polar Regions.

The WMO/UNEP Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns of increases in the frequency and intensity of floods, droughts, heatwaves and other meteorological hazards that directly impact agriculture, coral reefs and fisheries. Higher global temperatures will also put crops and fish stocks at increased risk of disease and pests.

Key sectors such as agriculture, energy, tourism and health will be among those most affected by the impact of climate change on water resources, for example, reduced water availability, a deterioration in water quality, increased runoff and an increase in the salinisation of groundwater are all expected as a result of sea-level rise.

There are steps the Cayman Islands can take to proactively reduce the threats and the possible impacts we face. The National Weather Service in the Cayman Islands has access to state of the art equipment that helps us to predict and forecast the timing and intensity of severe weather events. Businesses, families and individuals can take the time to put together their own hurricane plans. We can prepare.

Strict building codes and proactive enforcement makes the Cayman Islands more resilient than many of our neighbours to extreme weather events, but on World Meteorological day perhaps it is a good time to start our preparations for the beginning of hurricane season in June.