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Climate change a factor in earlier, stronger storms

Hurricane Beryl, at the time of the interview on July 5, was located near the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, on the southern areas of the Gulf of Mexico. Senior meteorologist Gary Benjamin stated, “As it is expected to go more over land, it should be reducing in strength a little bit, but it is still a strong and powerful hurricane.”

This hurricane was notable for being one of the deadliest in the region for some time and was described as an anomaly due to its strength and location so early in the hurricane season.

The interview highlighted the significant impact of climate change on hurricane formation and intensity. Benjamin explained that 2023 was the warmest year on record, with 2024 expected to be even warmer.

He noted, “Because of that warm ocean temperatures…. It is just relative to the past years, so that we could expect earlier and stronger hurricanes as the waters get warmer.” The meteorologist pointed out that current sea surface temperatures are similar to what would typically be expected in September, indicating a potentially more active and intense hurricane season.

Benjamin provided forecasts for the upcoming hurricane season, emphasising an expected increase in both the number and intensity of storms. For the Atlantic Basin, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico, he cited US-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predictions of “17 to 25 storms, 8 to 13 of which could become hurricane, and 4 to 7 major hurricanes.”

Specifically for the area east of the Lesser Antilles, including Trinidad and Tobago, Benjamin stated, “We’re looking at six likely named storms, the average of which would have been four between 1991 to 2020. We’re looking at the most likely number of hurricanes to be three, the average of which is one.”


Influence of climate change 

Addressing the gravity of climate change, Benjamin stressed the importance of individual action. “We have to now change our behaviours. We have to go into a behavioural change and reduce our own personal carbon footprint. We have to do things so as not to put greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere.” He stated that collective action could have a mitigating effect on climate change impacts over time.


Meteorological Services’ role and capabilities 

Benjamin discussed the Meteorological Services’ performance in predicting hurricanes, stating, “The Met Office has been performing above reasonably well.” He highlighted the challenges posed by climate change, noting that developments like Hurricane Beryl can occur. “In 24 hours, Beryl went from a tropical depression to a major hurricane.” Benjamin also mentioned ongoing efforts to improve forecasting capabilities, including getting their radar back online and implementing a new satellite.

The meteorologist underscored the critical need for public awareness and preparedness. He advised having “grab-and-go bags,” securing important documents, and having medications ready. Benjamin stressed the importance of community support, stating, “We all have to work together in preparation and also in the event of any disaster.”

He introduced the concept of “zero responders,” explaining, “That whenever anything happens, we have to be able to keep ourselves alive until such time the first responders and the professionals are able to get to us.”

Benjamin made a clear distinction between meteorological predictions and prophecies. He said, “Any meteorologist who wants to make you believe that they can foretell the future, I tell them that Gary Benjamin says they are fooling you. We cannot foretell the future. We do not do prophesies. We do predictions based on science.”

At the end of the interview when Benjamin was being thanked for his work, he expressed appreciation for the acknowledgment and highlighted how meaningful it is for the people working behind the scenes at the Met Office.


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