Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

The 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, which begins today, will be an another active one with six to 10 hurricanes expected out of 13 to 20 named tropical storms, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Three to five hurricanes could become major Category 3 or higher storms with wind speeds above 111 mph.

Here's the good news: this season isn't expected to be quite as bad as 2020, which saw 30 named storms, 14 of which were hurricanes and a record-breaking seven were major hurricanes. In fact there were so many storms that the alphabet of storm names ran out and the Greek alphabet was used for the last nine systems. (That has since been banned because the names confused most people.)

"Conditions are prime for a busy season," said Dr. Athena Masson, a meteorologist with Florida Public Radio Emergency Network.

Masson was one of several panelists on a recent Caribbean Tourism Organization webinar to discuss the Caribbean's state of readiness for hurricane season even while Covid-19 continues to pose a danger.

Is the Caribbean prepared to battle both Covid and hurricanes at the same time?

"We have to be prepared. We can't control Mother Nature, but we can control our readiness and our response," said Frank Comito, former CEO and director of the Caribbean Hotel and Travel Association, who now is serving as special advisor to the organization.

Comito emphasized that "we need to be able to move and react quickly. Travel to the region is picking up now, as most destinations have reopened with regulations and protocols that vary from island to island. With an active hurricane season upon us, it's even more important that hotels and resorts have plans firmly in place for evacutions of guests, if necessary, and with a stockpile of Covid supplies: masks, gloves, hand sanitizers and adequte shelter sites within the hotels if evacuation is not possible."

He pointed out that most properties already have set aside isolation rooms in case a guest develops Covid symptoms while at the resort.

Organizations such as CHTA, CTO and hotel associations now collaborate well before the official start of the season regarding communications during and after a storm hits, getting airlift into the islands to evacuate guests prior to a storm's arrival, activating relief and rapid response teams quickly and aiding in damage assessments.

Both the CTO and CHTA have hurricane readiness manuals for member countries and properties that include evacuation plan details, checklists of pre-season supplies and information on safe areas for guests within hotels or nearby shelters.

Most hotels and resorts offer hurricane cancellation insurance policies in the event a storm delays or cancels guests' arrivals or shortens their stay.

"The Caribbean is faced with increasing cases of Covid, and we have to mitigate the spread by continuing with public health barriers such as masks, hand sanitizers, social distancing and promoting vaccinations," said Dr. Lisa Indar, director of surveillance disease prevention and control for CARPHA, the Caribbean Public Health Agency. As a result of the severe storms in recent years, hotels are rebuilding stronger structures and positioning buildings so that they are not squarely in the face of prevailing winds.

And the bounceback is faster. "Twenty years ago it took three to four years to recover and rebound from a major hurricane," Comito said. "With hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, several of the badly hit islands recovered in two years."

Comito reiterated a point that is made during every hurricane season, "I beg all the meteorologists and weather people on  television to look at a map before they report that the Caribbean has been hit by a hurricane. Learn the difference between Barbuda and Bermuda. Don't lump the whole region together when just one or two islands have taken the brunt of the storm. Know your geography," he said.

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