A HURRICANE COMING!
I want to share with you the time I was on a small Island in the Caribbean called Utila when there was a hurricane coming our way! Utila is the smallest of the Bay Islands and it’s located off the coast of Honduras in the Caribbean Sea.
And how, by strange coincidence, I happen to find out about this tropical weather development before anyone else on the island.
I just happened to have been in the preliminary stages of researching a new novel entitled Island In The Sun in which I was planning to include a dramatic hurricane scene.
So, I did some of my research online to find out how weather patterns developed to create a full-scale hurricanes.
For this research I looked at the National Hurricane Centre (NOAA) website.
And, it was during my research on the NOAA website, I saw reports of a tropical cyclone alert in the Caribbean Sea.
I had researched that tropical cyclones can develop into tropical storms and hurricanes and that typically the NOAA website would issue a ‘hurricane watch’ notice 48 hours before it anticipates any tropical storm-force winds.
This was all very interesting for a writer researching for a fictional hurricane. So, I kept my eyes on it for a few days.
Then, I saw this cyclone gathering momentum. I watched it become a tropical storm.
Then I saw NOAA had upgraded it to A Hurricane Alert Warning.
l also saw that it was headed straight for The Bay Islands.
A hurricane was coming our way!
THE HURRICANE SEASON
The hurricane season in the Caribbean runs from 1st June through to 30th November each year. Interestingly, according to NOAA statistics, there are usually an average of 12 tropical storms per year and 50 % of them will go on to escalate into hurricanes during this time. Hurricanes are among nature’s most powerful and destructive phenomena.
MY BOOK RESEARCH
As part of my research for my fictional hurricane, I had been chatting to people on the island about tropical storms because several people on the island still remembered Utila being slammed by Hurricane Mitch back in late October 1998.
I was told by locals that Mitch had been the strongest storm of the 1998 Atlantic season.
It had been classed as a Category 5 – the highest rating on the Saffir-Simpson scale. It reached its peak wind speed of 180 miles (290 km) per hour off the north-eastern coast of Honduras on October 26 and 27, when it dumped heavy rain on much of Central America, particularly on Honduras and Nicaragua.
Hurricane Mitch then stalled over the Bay Islands with winds holding at 100mph (165kph) sending massive waves crashing over the island of Utila.
Hurricane Mitch has since been recognised as the second deadliest Atlantic storm after The Great Hurricane of 1780.
On the island of Utila, houses were blown away. Trees uprooted. Electricity poles brought down. Tragically, people were killed.
In the wake of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 the government of Honduras declared a State of Emergency.
Others on the island, who perhaps hadn’t ever experienced a hurricane, were light-heartedly accused me of conjuring it up!
Hurricanes are a serious business and it was interesting to see serious preparations being put in place once NOAA and The National Hurricane Centre had issued a warning that Earl had been upgraded and now classified as a hurricane.
For the next couple of days, while the weather was calm and there was hardly a breath of wind in the air and the sea was like glass, the municipality and the islanders worked together to cut down trees that might fall in the incoming storm and damage people or property.
I helped to batten up windows (not many on this tropical island have glass in them) and to nail up protective shutters
Hurricanes are a Serious Business
As Earl approached, weather and mood on the island became a little spooky and strange, as dark clouds gathered on the horizon.
There was an underlying atmosphere of trepidation but there was also anticipation and adrenalin! So it was kind of amusing to see that instead of panicking, most people were in good fettle and even in a party mood. There were many ‘hurricane parties’ and all the bars on the island were, of course, serving The Hurricane as their ‘cocktail of the day’.
The Hurricane Cocktail
In the spirit of the island this is the traditional Hurricane recipe:
On the morning of 3rd August 2016 we realised we had been spared.
We were told that Earl had changed direction and had missed the Bay Islands completely.
However, according to reports, Earl was a Category One Hurricane when it made landfall in Belize and crossed Guatemala and southern Mexico. Earl caused considerable wind damage and storm surge flooding in Belize, and produced very heavy rainfall across much of Central America, as well as eastern and southern Mexico, resulting in widespread flooding and mudslides.
Earl was responsible for 81 deaths in Mexico.
When we all woke to this sobering news on that fateful morning, everyone on the island considered ourselves very fortunate indeed. However, as a writer, I did value the experience of being directly involved in very real storm warning preparations.
It was incredible and valuable first-hand experience proving nothing in a writer’s life goes to waste because that scene is now a pivotal part of what is an action-packed storyline in my book ‘Island In The Sun’ .
Have you ever been involved in bad weather while travelling abroad?
Get in touch. Leave a comment below!
You can read more about the island of Utila in my Travel Guide To Utila
Island in the Sun
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