Environment Canada is telling Canadians to expect more hurricane activity this year than last.
“It’s quieter than we’ve seen over the last couple of years — although there has been a handful of storms that have formed already — but the season is looking to be a little above average,” said Chris Fogarty, program supervisor at the Canadian Hurricane Centre in Dartmouth, N.S.
Fogarty said it’s impossible to predict the number of hurricanes that may form and possibly make landfall this season, but figures Newfoundland and Labrador will see seven to nine.
The average is seven, and the season runs from June to November, with 90 per cent of the activity taking place from mid-August to mid-October.
“The things we look for are water conditions and temperatures,” said Fogarty. “The warm weather we’ve had this season has allowed the ocean to warm up several degrees above average, and the weather we do get can be influenced by that. But the warmer temperatures we’ve had do not increase the chance of having a hurricane move in our direction.”
But there’s no room for complacency.
“Even on any given year, if we were seeing signs of a quiet season, people should not let their guard down,” said Fogarty, referencing 1992 in Florida when a quiet hurricane year was predicted before a massive storm hit Miami, causing upwards of $25 billion in damages.
The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is especially apt in the case of hurricanes, he said.
“The key is to identify your risks in terms of property. Are you in an area that is prone to flooding? Hurricane Igor is a glaring example. Newfoundland is quite resilient, but property is always at risk,” he said.”
“You have to not wait for the storm; once you’re within a few days of a storm, there are some shorter-term things to do such as top up your fuel, your generator and keep some extra cash on hand. Because when a road gets washed out there is not much a homeowner can do.”
Jim Cook of Random Island knows that all too well.
The chairman of the Random Island West local service district, he was home when Igor struck and knows how all the best laid plans can be washed away with one infrastructural failure.
“Igor showed us that. We designated the Lion’s Club or the church (as the muster station), the only two places we have in Random West, and they were cut off. I live on the road to Snook’s Harbour and the road was cut. I couldn’t even get out to the main road. Sometimes, all the planning in the world isn’t going to do you any good.”
Cook said his service district is working on its provincially mandated emergency management plan in preparation for future disasters, but the district comprises six communities and has only a small volunteer base to draw on.
“All we can do is advise people. Because of our small numbers, we have a phone system set up to contact people and say, ‘Here’s what you should be doing and making sure you have certain items on hand.'
"When Igor struck, we tried to get bottled water and we made calls to government. We got nothing.”
However, in working on that plan, Cook found it’s not hurricanes that pose the biggest fear to Random Island.
“One of the biggest fears I have is not the hurricanes, it’s forest fires. This past summer was extremely dry and fire can be very devastating and can travel very quickly. If you have to evacuate the island, we have only one main road. This part of Random Island doesn’t have a fishing industry as such. There would be very few boats and even those that exist wouldn’t be able to handle the population.”
Work still being done
In Trinity Bay North, where Igor destroyed the local fish plant and cost roughly $1 million in infrastructure damage, town manager Daryl Johnson says some of the repair work has yet to be completed. “We were devastated (by Igor). One of the main bridges in Port Union is not repaired yet, but it’s gone to tender. We’re also waiting on some work to be on one of the lift stations, but that’s already been tendered. Hopefully by the end of the year we will have all the infrastructures repaired from Igor.
”The municipality’s emergency management plan has been filed with the Department of Municipal affairs, but Johnson says that only takes you so far; you can’t really prepare for something like a hurricane Igor.
“You couldn’t prepare for a storm that’s one in a hundred years, but we have to do the best we can. Igor was a great learning experience but it was also a tragedy. We did learn from it.”
Part of the experience for Trinity Bay North involves monitoring the weather and, should storms be imminent, have all the drains and sewage outfalls cleared of debris by town workers. They also make sure all available town firefighters, councillors and employees are on standby.
Beyond that, public readiness is the best you can hope for, says Johnson.
“The biggest thing is trying to educate the public. It means you have to stay home. When you have a lot of people on the go (working during an emergency situation) the public has to realize, you have to stay home. It makes it more difficult for the emergency people trying to work.
“The worst thing we had (after Igor) was a lot of personal damage, it really put some people in a hard situation. So now people take the extra precaution with sump pumps and improved drainage, but in the end the people are our priority and we work to take care of them in emergency situations.”
Earlier this week in Florida, the Republic National Committee had to scale back operations as a result of tropical storm Isaac.
Isaac represents the ninth named tropical storm of the season, and was preceded by Ernesto, which hit the Yucatan early last week. Before Ernesto, there was Chris, which reached as far as the Grand Banks before dissipating earlier this month.