By Kenton X. Chance
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) — A regional forecaster says the 2020 dry season is not expected to be as dry as this year but has warned that the effects of the drier-than-normal 2019 rainy season will continue into the New Year.
“The forecast for the dry season is, in a way, probably not as extreme as for the previous dry seasons, which is probably good news for agriculture in that in parts of the region, at least, we expect rainfall not to be not as dry as last year. So for those farmers who grow crops, particularly in the south and eastern Caribbean, it shouldn’t be as bad as last year,” said Dr. Cédric Van Meerbeeck, climatologist at the Barbados-based Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH).
“But in terms of long term drought, which relates to water storage, the very large water reservoirs in the islands and in Belize, we still face challenges in the same places that are now experiencing drought,” Van Meerbeeck told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) on the sidelines of the Dry Season Caribbean Climate Outlook Forum (CariCOF) which ends here on Friday.
Van Meerbeeck said the situation is quite different in the Guianas, where, particularly in the coastal areas, they have just started their secondary wet season and have had a reasonably wet to extremely wet couple month and year.
“So they have enough water and now going into the wet season, which is predicted to be wetter than usual even, that leads to concerns of flooding beyond the typical flooding that already occurs. So probably that is one of the major concerns for Guianas.”
Van Meerbeeck said that the situation with the lower than usual rainfall is not as widespread as with the drought of 2009 and 2010 and 2014 to 2016.
“But where there is drought right now, it can be very, very intense. Like in Belize, they have had the worst drought in many, many years, at least since the 80s. Barbados can end up in its driest years on record so 2019 could be the driest year on record in Barbados and there are parts of Trinidad that are still suffering from the long-term drought.”
He said the situation in other areas have not been as extreme, adding that there has been quite some bad droughts in Hispaniola, both on the side of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
“But it is not generalised over the entire country so, hopefully, they might still have some water resources that they can pull from other parts of the country and the island. But for the small island states that have been badly affected by drought, the situation is probably a little more critical, as well as in Belize, in the northern parts, where they have really faced a drought — if I may say, something that we would refer to as a drought emergency.
“I am not going to say that is official because this is just a methodological approach that we have at CIMH. It is up to the country to decide what they call the situation but they have called for more aid for the farmers in the north of Belize because the situation really was in dire straits.”
Van Meerbeeck said that because water availability at large is a problem that might percolate into the tourism sector, interest there might want to keep themselves up to date on the latest drought situation, particularly during the high season, winter months for those markets that have a high season during the winter months.
“My best advice is just to keep up to date with the situation and if you can, if it is not already in place as much water conservation practices is done as possible,” he told CMC.
The region is beginning the dry season at a time when “unfortunately” we were accurate in the prediction that the last wet season was going to be drier than usual, Van Meerbeeck said, noting that such a prediction came on the back of a dry season.
“What is happening now is that in quite a few countries in the Caribbean, the water levels in the reservoirs are running below full capacity and as you know, as we enter the dry season now in December, throughout much of the region that does mean that we have an additional stress factor that is related to the lack of fresh water because our reservoirs are running low in countries like Belize, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.”
Van Meerbeeck told CMC that that even though there were episodes of flooding, like in Tobago in October, that was not enough to balance out the deficits that were recorded in Trinidad, which had its driest dry season on record.
He said that in Barbados and other places that are in drought there is “a little bit of a tricky situation” in that people might not see the drought happening because the grass is green.
“But, at the same time, we should bear in mind that if there is a little rain during the wet season, even if it is not as much as usual, that usually for the plants at surface but not necessarily for the water reservoirs, especially if you are dealing with groundwater as a water resource.”
The climatologist that the other situation that unfolded that has been forecast is that the heat season which runs from May to October was predicted to be a potentially intense one and this was realised.
“Just a few of the Caribbean territories did not suffer from very bad heat in summer and one of those territories was Guadeloupe but in general most of the Caribbean territories had a really hot summer. For instance, in Jamaica and Cuba, they had temperatures soaring up to nearly 40 degrees [Celsius] in June, beating their all-time temperature record.
“Another statistic we will also be looking at, the number of hot days, in Barbados for instance, you could see that both in September and October more than half of the month was hot days. So that means that we had a very long time that we were exposed to heat much more so that in the previous two days. So most Caribbean citizen would have at least noticed that the heat season was indeed hot this year,” Van Meerbeeck told CMC.