The recent passage of Tropical Storm Philippe was a timely reminder that Virgin Islands residents should remain vigilant through the end of the 2023 Atlantic Hurricane Season and beyond.
Philippe dumped 12 inches of rain on Anegada, and on Tortola more than 10 inches were recorded in Brewers Bay, Cane Garden Bay and Hannahs. Wind speeds reached 46 miles per hour in Road Town.
Thankfully, despite flash flooding on some parts of Tortola, Philippe’s damage was not catastrophic. Several homes and businesses were inundated, and damage to roads in Brewers Bay and Windy Hill will take time and effort to repair. Neighbouring Caribbean islands were also largely spared. But things could have been much worse.
Indeed, Philippe was originally predicted to spin harmlessly out to sea as it approached the VI. Instead, it lurched suddenly and erratically, lingering for a bit over the territory and dumping rain.
Earlier in the season, tropical storms Bret and Lee, which also risked impacting the VI, stayed away. But as 2017 taught the territory, good fortune doesn’t always last. And the worsening effects of climate change add extra uncertainty.
This hurricane season was forecast to be an average one, with the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicting 12 to 17 named storms. Five to nine were expected to become hurricanes, one to four of which were expected to grow to Category Three or higher. However, in August, the NOAA upped those predictions, suggesting a forecast of 14 to 21 named storms, six to 11 potential hurricanes, and two to five “major hurricanes.”
The hurricane season won’t officially end until Nov. 30, and large storms may come even after that date. Residents would do well to make or review their response plans, stockpile supplies, and take the usual preparations.
The VI government should double down on its preparations as well. This includes repairing damaged community centres that serve as emergency shelters, removing derelict vessels, and securing vulnerable infrastructure such as the Ralph T. O’Neal Administration Complex.
Some progress has been made in recent years. We are heartened, for example, that drainage upgrades in Purcell and Fish Bay put into place after Hurricane Irma appeared to move away water quickly and cleanly. More of these projects are surely needed in perennial trouble spots.
We applaud the work of disaster managers and forecasters, private-sector stakeholders, volunteers, and all others who have worked to make this hurricane season safe so far.
We hope that there will be no need for all their preparations. But we cannot count on it.