A brief Bret of relief

Under the stars, in the low scrub and up among the vegetation the occasional firefly flashed by, darting in the sweltering darkness as the warm waves rolled in with rare ferocity, crashing along the curving shore of the beautiful bay dotted with small boats and cool caves. The scattered lights of the nearby simple fishing village twinkled on the hills in the distance while the dim outline of the forested mountains loomed on the opposite side sloping into the restless sea.

We were intently searching, in vain, for the tracks and nesting depressions of giant leatherback turtles a few nights ago. These threatened marine creatures traditionally return to the beach where they were born to lay their eggs and researchers know that they use a built-in navigation system involving the earth’s magnetic field.

Suddenly the guides pointed to the sheets of rain that hung from the sky in a faraway line of pale hazy veils, reminding us of the approaching deluge that was still hours away.

That cold morning I rose again before sunrise to enjoy the rich orchestra of sweet song that swelled from the trees and to watch the early birds literally catch the worms, then shoot into the barrage of bugs and the flurry of flies that flitted in the flare of the floodlights and the faint drizzle. Clouds of white mist rose eerily from the peaks and cicadas hummed in the nearby patch of virgin rainforest where huge hundreds year-old specimens towered in the heavy, mysterious green thicket and thin tall saplings struggled stretching towards the sunlight, as the frogs gurgled in a constant chorus from the wet undergrowth.

Tropical Storm Bret roared in the following day with downpours causing flooding and rapidly rising rivers in several areas of Trinidad, but the damage was not as severe or as widespread as feared prompting the wry observation of being saved through sheer luck and the inevitable conclusion that “God must be a Trini!”

The popular exclamation “Oh my God!” did follow these familiar scenes not unlike those startling images in Guyana recently when numerous villages in Regions Seven and Eight were affected, or Jamaica where 10 parishes suffered.  Some countries especially in the eastern Caribbean are also experiencing frequent droughts. A new study by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology now predicts that acute rain in most parts of the world will rise in intensity by three to 15 percent, depending on the region, for every degree Celsius that the planet warms.

2016 was the hottest in 137 years of record keeping and the third year in a row to take the number one slot, a mark of how much the world has warmed in the last century because of human activities, American government scientists said earlier this year.

Scientific American reported that the 2016 mark confirmed rising global average temperatures of between 1.69°F (0.94°C) and 1.8°F (0.99°C) with a joint announcement by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Deke Arndt, chief of the monitoring branch of the National Centers for Environmental Information said each agency has slightly varying methods of processing the data and different baseline periods for comparison, as do other monitoring groups around the world. However all of these records “are capturing the same long-term signal” which is “pretty unmistakable.”

“They’re singing the same song, even if they’re hitting different notes along the way,” he adds.

Bret was an unusual storm given how far south and how early it formed at a surprisingly low latitude and far east longitude on June 19 in the Atlantic to brush past Trinidad.  But then the tropics are behaving really oddly with Bret being only the third known tropical tempest to evolve – before July 1 in 167 years of record-keeping – in the Main Development Region (MDR) of the Atlantic which typically sees most activity during the height of the normal hurricane season in August into September. Weather sites reported that it was the earliest MDR storm beating Ana of June 22, 1979. The south-eastern United States coast, the Gulf of Mexico and the western Caribbean are the usual breeding grounds for June squalls.

With Cindy about to slam into the U.S, only three other Atlantic hurricane seasons have had two concurrent named storms in June: 1909, 1959 and 1968, tropical meteorologist at Colorado State University Dr. Phil Klotzbach tweeted,Weather.com said.

The implications are frightening for countries like Guyana. There are nagging doubts it can even manage the tail-end of such a storm given the low-lying coast, deteriorating sea defences and infrastructure, a very vulnerable capital and the fact that 90 percent of the population and the valuable agricultural sector would now be in the suddenly shifting firing line. Thunderstorms need the earth’s rotation to induce the spin factor required to form a cyclone and on the equator this spin is effectively zero with experts previously noting that at least 10º N is required for sufficient rotation to start a disturbance that generally travels in a western to north-westerly direction along what is known as “Hurricane Alley.”

An earlier Tropical Storm Bret of 1993 peaked at 60 miles per hour as it neared Trinidad and Tobago but the country was also spared as the weak gale took a far south course passing over Venezuela as the first tropical storm in 100 years. Wiki indicates northern regions were covered with 13.4 inches of rainfall and the capital Caracas received four inches over just seven hours leading to immense flooding and huge landslides that killed nearly 200 people in one of the nation’s deadliest natural disasters.

The MIT/Swiss study forecasts that if global average temperatures rise by the expected four degrees Celsius over the next century as many climate models predict given even relatively high carbon dioxide emissions, much of the world will experience greater extreme rainfall.

For the current Atlantic hurricane round, from June 1 through November 30, forecasters anticipate a 45 percent chance of an above-normal season, with a 70 percent likelihood of 11 to 17 named storms of which 5 to 9 could become hurricanes bearing winds of at least 74 mph, including two to four major events.

Tropical Storm Arlene, a rare preseason event materialised over the eastern Atlantic in April. “The outlook reflects our expectation of a weak or non-existent El Nino near or above average sea-surface temperatures across the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, and average or weaker than average vertical wind shear in that same region,” explained Dr. Gerry Bell, lead    seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

El Niño means The Little Boy, or Christ Child in Spanish and it was originally recognized by fishermen off the coast of South America in the 1600s, with the December appearance of unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean. El Niño and its sister La Niña are opposite phases of what is known as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle that describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere. These deviations from normal surface temperatures impact ocean conditions, marine fisheries and global weather and climate.

Strong El Ninos and wind shear typically suppress the growth of Atlantic hurricanes, so the prediction for weak conditions points to more activity as hotter sea surface temperatures fuel the systems as they travel across the ocean. However, the climate models are showing considerable uncertainty, NOAA warned.

As I admired a tufted coquette dancing among the purple duranta or golden dewdrop flowers I thought of the fragility of Trinidad’s tiniest hummingbird as small as a bumble bee– and the largest of the marine turtles, the magnificent leatherback whose carnivorous reptile relatives have endured since the behemoth evolved over 110 million years ago.

Decades ago, as a young reporter I was called out by the Guyana Museum to the East Coast of Demerara to witness the rescue of a massive leatherback which had become stranded in a farming drain inland. It took the strength of several strapping men and the power of a tractor to pull her out. Lifting the jelly-fish loving creature on to the trailer we noticed what appeared to be tears coming out of her eyes. We slid her off from a concrete barrier into the sea and as we watched the turtle gracefully swim away, one of the men laughingly announced they had named her Magdalene after the heavenly woman, expunged of seven demons, who travelled with Jesus.

Marine turtles use a lachrymal gland to rid their bodies of excess salt. The fluid secretion makes them look as if they are “crying” and keeps their eyes free of sand while females dig their nests. In the months and years ahead we are going to cry real tears as the world prepares to face the turbulent music.

ID worries about Don, Emily, Franklin, Gert, Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia and their ten other friends dropping in unexpectedly, even as the Trinidadian Government prematurely gasped “Thank God!” as this seventh Bret degenerated into a tropical wave.

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