Features — 23 February 2016 — by Adele Ramos
Drought and flood warnings issued for Caribbean

BELIZE CITY, Fri. Feb. 19, 2016–There is a sharp contrast between drought and flood conditions, but it appears that an extended drought across our region could create flood concerns once the rains return in full force. This week the Barbados-based Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH) called on regional countries to brace themselves for floods, as the drought conditions which have affected the region since late 2014 are expected to subside by the start of this year’s hurricane season.

Whereas many other countries in our region continue to grapple with drought conditions and water shortages, heavy rains during the latter part of 2015 have eased drought conditions in Belize. However, Belize may get hotter and drier weather in the coming months. The institute reports that Belize has a 60% chance that its maximum temperatures will be above normal and a 45% chance that it will get less rain than normal for the period February to March 2016.

temperature-forecast

Generally speaking, the warmer and drier conditions experienced across the Caribbean have been attributed to El Niño, the warming of the eastern equatorial Pacific which saw cyclone activity suppressed in the Caribbean basin and the Atlantic. However, as El Niño wears off and the Pacific cools, the Caribbean could be impacted, possibly by higher than normal rainfall and stronger cyclones, CIMH relayed.

The CIMH advises that areas experiencing long-term dryness will be more susceptible to hazards such as landslides and flash floods, once rains return in excessive amounts. The possibility of flooding in parts of the Caribbean which had been affected by drought was the key warning from the institute when it issued its latest seasonal climate forecast.

rainfall-forecast

Adrian Trotman, Chief of Applied Meteorology and Climatology at CIMH explained that, “Limited rainfall over the last few months has left many parts of the Caribbean with dry, compacted soils. As a result, heavy rainfall will not be easily absorbed by affected soil, which increases the risk of flooding.”

The Caribbean Climate Outlook Forum published by the Caribbean Regional Climate Centre, housed at the Institute, gave an overview of the regional picture. It said that drought conditions are expected in most places up to May.

“Currently, most islands are in long-term drought. These places suffer water shortages. Some are also in short-term drought,” the outlook said, adding that drought has been alleviated in Belize.

The National Meteorological Service in Belize says that, “Because of the above normal rainfall that occurred in October, November and December of 2015, the drought situation has eased off over the entire country thru to April of 2016.”

It added, though, that “In the long-term, there is still concern for drought in the southwest and central coast of the country through to the end of July 2016.”

There are drought warnings and similar alerts for Barbados, the Guyanas, the southern Leeward Islands, and Trinidad & Tobago. The long-term concern is that existing water shortages may worsen throughout the first half of 2016, with drought relief not in sight for the remainder of the dry season.

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