2017 Hurricane Season Review
Published 30th November 2017, 3:48pm
Hurricane Season Overview
The 2017 Atlantic hurricane officially season came to a close today. It was an extremely active season featuring 17 named storms, six of which became major hurricanes (Category 3 or above), however once again, the Cayman Islands was spared from significant impacts. Many other Islands and countries were not so fortunate. The 2017 season goes down in the history books as the costliest season on record, with a preliminary estimate of more than $300 billion USD in losses. Terrible damage was inflicted, including to a number of our fellow UK Overseas Territories. Most of the financial losses were the result of three hurricanes; Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
The season officially began on June 1 and ended on November 30, but hurricanes can form at other times of year and with Tropical Storm Arlene making its appearance in April, this is now the third consecutive year to feature a pre-season storm. Initial predictions for the season anticipated that an El Nino would develop, lowering storm activity. However, these predictions proved to be incorrect and La Nina conditions developed instead. Forecasters scrambled to revise their seasonal forecasts upwards in August and they began calling for above average activity.
The season really began for the Cayman Islands on June 16th June when weather statements were issued by the Cayman Islands National Weather Service (CINWS) for Tropical Storm Bret, warning of flooding of low lying areas, 20 to 25 knot winds and very rough seas with wave heights of 6 to 8 feet. A marine warning was issued for the Cayman Islands but Bret passed well south bringing some rain and fairly rough seas.
On August 6th Tropical Storm Franklin formed over the northwest Caribbean about 200 miles south of Grand Cayman, but Franklin tracked west making landfall on the Yucatan Peninsula.
By August 17th local residents began closely watching the progress of Tropical Storm Harvey as it approached the Caribbean Sea. Harvey tracked west passing about 240 miles south of Cayman Islands and brought heavy rain, but otherwise little in the way of impacts. By August 19th Harvey had weakened to a mere tropical depression and the storm proceed to move north of Honduras and then across the Yucatan Peninsula before reemerging in the Gulf of Mexico. Harvey then strengthened significantly in the warm waters of the Gulf and headed north, coming ashore in Texas as a powerful category four hurricane. Hurricane Harvey was a costly disaster for the United States, as in addition to powerful winds it was also accompanied by record amounts of rainfall which resulted in devastating floods that led to 82 fatalities and estimated 75 billion dollars in damage (now the costliest tropical cyclone ever recorded).
The next system to focus the attention of Cayman residents was Irma. On August 30 the CINWS began putting out information about Tropical Storm Irma and early uncertainty in the track caused the weather service to encourage residents to closely monitor the progress of the cyclone. The following day Irma strengthened to a category 2 hurricane and continued to track westward attaining Cat 3 status on September 4th. At this point the Cayman Islands were placed just inside the southern margin of the cone of uncertainty issued by the National Hurricane Centre in Miami. The following day Irma strengthened to an extremely powerful category 5 hurricane and warnings were issued for Anguilla, Montserrat and BVI and a watch for TCI. On September 6th the hurricane passed over BVI and Anguilla and TCI on September 7th causing significant devastation and prompting relief efforts from the Cayman Islands. Hurricane Irma brought rough seas to the west coast of the Cayman Islands and blustery conditions; the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service (RCIPS) recommended residents avoid all water related activities due to the conditions. The Hurricane continued to track in a westerly direction raking the north coast of Cuba on September 9th and then on September 10th Irma took a more northerly course and struck Key West and moved over the state of Florida prompting the temporary closure of Miami International Airport and various shipping ports. Following Irma rumours of food shortages swirled on social media in the Cayman Islands but these were unfounded and normal shipping container activity resumed quickly.
Less than a week after Hurricane Irma caused devastation, Tropical Storm Maria was bearing down on the Leeward Islands. By September 18th Maria had intensified to a potentially catastrophic Cat 5 hurricane and shortly thereafter the eye went directly over the Island of Dominica and the hurricane then came ashore in Puerto Rico causing massive devastation.
The 2017 hurricane season continued to keep local residents on edge when on October 3rd a broad area of low pressure formed over the southwestern Caribbean off the coast of Nicaragua. On October 5th the low pressure developed into tropical storm Nate and on October 6th the CINWS issued a marine warning as TS Nate passed 280 miles west of Grand Cayman bringing fresh SE winds and rough seas.
Finally on October 23rd residents began watching another area of low pressure which formed off the eastern coast of Nicaragua. The system moved very slowly north and by October 27th the National Hurricane Centre placed the Cayman Islands squarely in the cone of uncertainty for their forecast track product. There was some discussion between CINWS and HMCI about whether or not to issue a tropical storm watch, but after a hurricane hunter investigated the system, local officials determined the centre of the system would pass 90 miles west of Grand Cayman and they chose not to issue a watch, and instead to notify residents about likely impacts from gusty winds, heavy rainfall, rough seas. A severe weather alert accompanied the local forecast. A Tropical Storm Warning was issued for the Isle of Pines and Havana, and the low pressure eventually developed into Tropical Storm Phillipe with a watch issued for parts of the Bahamas.
The Cayman Islands Government supported Anguilla, British Virgin Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands in a number of ways with the Helicopter being deployed to assist with Damage Assessment, HMCI staff deployed to assist the Anguilla Disaster Management Office and BVI Red Cross. Communications Technicians, a detachment of RCIPS Police Officers, CUC linesmen, Health Service Authority workers and others were also sent to assist. Disaster relief supplies were dispatched such as medicine, water, tarps, generators, jerry cans and food. Churches and Civic Clubs also collected money to assist with the relief effort and local residents opened their homes to people whose properties and livelihoods were severely affected in the OTs.
2017 will be remembered as one of the most destructive hurricane seasons in history. The Cayman Islands was fortunate to get through the season largely unscathed and to be in a position to support those in need and who are working to rebuild their shattered lives.