June is swiftly approaching and with the arrival of this month comes the start of the 2023 Atlantic Hurricane season. The Atlantic hurricane season is the period in a year when tropical cyclones, often referred to as hurricanes, tropical storms or tropical depressions by people in North America, form in the Atlantic Ocean. Although the period generally runs from June 1 to November 30, it's important to note that hurricanes can occur outside of this period. As the season approaches I can only pray that we will make it through without experiencing a major disaster.
Jamaica has had its fair share of devastating hurricanes and tropical storms. Some were direct hits and others passed close enough that the outer bands still impacted us greatly. Hurricane Gilbert of '88 is to date the most talked about and most disastrous hurricane to hit Jamaica. I wasn't born when this hurricane hit the island but I have heard the stories. Everyone who was old enough to experience it will forever remember September 12, 1988. The earliest hurricane experience I remember was Hurricane Ivan in '04. In today's post, I'll be sharing my first hurricane experience.
A Storm Is Brewing
I don't remember all the details surrounding the storm, but I remember that it happened during the first week of the Fall Term or as we call it in Jamaica the Christmas term. During the hurricane season, the Meteorological Service of Jamaica regularly updates us regarding the status of storms, whether or not they pose a threat to the island. The hurricane season records the most activity between mid-August and mid-October. Tropical Storm Ivan was the ninth named storm for the 2004 Atlantic Hurricane Season. It gradually developed into a hurricane, reaching category 4 status upon entering the Caribbean Sea. The storm then upgraded to category 5 and made its way across the Caribbean Sea heading towards Jamaica. The forecasters predicted that it would make landfall in Jamaica, but it miraculously shifted and was downgraded to a category 4 by the time it approached the island.
Forecasters predicted that the eye of the hurricane would pass just south of the island, so they expected the southern parishes, including my parish (Clarendon), to feel the effects most. Despite the numerous notices and updates regarding Hurricane Ivan, some people still did not take heed until the 'hurricane watch' was upgraded to a 'hurricane warning'. This was the time when people started stocking up on canned items and other non-perishable food. Others started securing roofs and battening windows and doors where possible. I was both excited and scared at the same time as this would be my first real hurricane experience. I believe that we also had chickens at the time and as such we had to secure the chicken coop.
Hurricane A Come
The day of the storm arrived and we waited with bated breath. I remember the morning being overcast with occasional showers. By evening the winds came. That was our sign that the storm had arrived. Our yard had two coconut trees at the front and as a result of the heavy winds one fell over the fence, taking the powerline with it. The tree bore several coconuts and the most shocking thing was people came out into the storm to pick up coconuts. It was quite amusing to see and to this day that was the most memorable part of the whole ordeal for me. They had cut the power earlier so thankfully no one was electrocuted. One person threw a few of the fruits back over the fence. We watched all of this from our verandah. The wind and rain picked up and sent everyone scampering with their loot.
The hurricane raged into the night and things got scarier. The wind and rain lashed the roof. We lived in a house with a zinc roof and if you've ever lived under a zinc roof you know how loud it gets when there is a heavy downpour. I had every intention of staying up that night because I was too afraid to fall asleep. Sleep got the better of me eventually and I woke up some hours later while the eye was passing. I assumed it was over but my mother advised that this wasn't the end. I stayed awake until the wind and rain started again and then when I woke up the next day the storm had finally passed.
The Storm Is Over
We made it through the night safely and save for a few sheets of zinc which lifted the house was undamaged. The yard was filled with broken branches and leaves from ravaged trees. To my dismay, no one's satellite dish landed in our yard like in the song. I was grateful that my family was safe. We checked in with a few of our neighbours and to our relief no one in our immediate vicinity was severely affected. In the week following the storm things slowly started to return to normal. We were out of power for a few days longer than normal since the powerline had to be re-attached. Without electricity, we had to buy ice from an ice factory or enjoy room-temperature beverages.
Once they restored the power, we were finally able to watch the news and we saw how truly devastating the hurricane had been. A number of people lost their homes and sadly there were a few lives lost. We were all the more thankful that we had been spared the worst of it. When I returned to school my classmates and I swapped stories as we each relayed our encounter.
My first hurricane experience was certainly an unforgettable one, but I am happy to have made it through unscathed. I have also experienced a few other storms and hurricanes since that time. Living on an island in the Caribbean means that this will be inevitable. The most important take away from my experience though is to always listen to the updates and take the necessary precautions. Jamaica has also been spared on numerous occasions and for that I will forever be thankful.
Have you ever experienced a hurricane? If, yes, feel free to share your experience in the comments below?
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