On April 4th, the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University (CSU) released their Extended Range Forecast of Atlantic Seasonal Hurricane Activity and Landfall Strike Probability for 2024. Unsurprisingly, it aligned with other extended range forecasts we’ve already seen this year. CSU is predicting an above average activity level for this Atlantic hurricane season.  The question is, what does this really mean for the USVI, or for any community familiar with the worries of hurricane season? First, remember that it only takes one storm to turn a quiet season into an active one for any community. All preparations should be made as early as possible, no matter what the extended range forecast looks like.  There are two main factors that are generally considered to be the “engine” of this hurricane season. Number one, the anticipated transition to a La Niña weather pattern. Number two, the unseasonably warm sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico. The combination of a La Niña, which historically decreases wind shear in the Atlantic Basin, and warmer sea surface temperatures creates a very favorable environment for hurricanes to form. When compared with historical data from similar seasons, this gives the forecasters confidence in their above average extended range forecast.  However, there are many other factors to consider. A strong Saharan Air Layer, for example, helps to inhibit tropical cyclone activity. An active Saharan dust season could change the forecast. Furthermore, it is impossible to predict, in an extended range format, where any given storm is going to make landfall. Specific tracking forecasts are much shorter range. These become more accurate the smaller the window of observation becomes. As hurricane season heats up, it’s important to monitor the five- and three-day forecasts coming out of the National Hurricane Center (NHC). Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we must remember that the term “category” classifies hurricanes on the Saffir-Simpson scale. When considering the risks associated with a storm, remember the Saffir-Simpson scale considers wind speeds and wind damage, primarily. Assessing risk based on this classification alone discounts hazards associated with heavy rain, storm surge, and slow moving storm systems. These can be just as dangerous as wind, if not more so.  Overall, when dealing with extended range forecasts, use them as general guidance and useful reminders to complete your preparedness activities well in advance of a storm. Make sure you know the most reliable sources of information, like VITEMA, FEMA, NHC, and the National Weather Service (NWS). Learn about the hazards and risks you may face in a storm, and determine the best course of action to keep your household safe. Build or restock your emergency kit. Visit Ready.gov to ensure that you have developed strong emergency preparedness plans with your family, coworkers, and church, and work to build a culture of preparedness in your community. Remember, these forecasts are tools that can help you make strong plans. 
On Monday evening, June 12th, Love City Strong hosted a Plan Cruz Bay hands-on planning session in the cafeteria at Julius E. Sprauve School. For those of you who were unable to join us for this event, here is the link to the recording. Plan Cruz Bay – Hands On Session – June 12, 2023 If you have questions or input you would like to share, please reach out to our Executive Director Meaghan Enright – meaghan@lovecitystrongvi.org
From June 11th to 16th, Love City Strong is hosting an opportunity for the St. John community to come together and share ideas for the future of Cruz Bay. Plan Cruz Bay is a chance to have your voice heard, listen to others, and work together to form a common vision for the area. With a plan in place that reflects the community’s wants and needs, near and long-term development and reuse of property can continue to support a resilient Cruz Bay. The goal of Plan Cruz Bay is to generate a dynamic near and long-term strategy that includes a conceptual urban design plan to guide future growth and development. The plan will, based on community input, address opportunities and challenges and aim to improve connectivity, pedestrian safety, civic spaces, building form and appearance, and more. The plan will include analysis, before-and-after visualizations, and an implementation strategy. Plan Cruz Bay recommendations will include proposals for housing, transportation, community facilities, stormwater management, and land use. Ideally, the Plan will serve as a guiding document to define residents’ future vision of the area, inform government decisions, and guide implementation actions. Plan Cruz Bay is sponsored by Love City Strong to amplify the community’s voice and produce a framework for a more resilient future. The recommendations for this Plan will supplement the territory-wide Comprehensive Land & Water Use Plan (CLWUP) that is currently underway, and will take into account other existing and relevant plans in the Territory. Community involvement is critical to the success of Plan Cruz Bay. The charrette will feature a variety of events on different days and at different times, offering multiple opportunities for residents to participate in the planning process. We encourage you to come to at least one event, if not more. The team leading this important planning effort is made up of recognized local and national experts in the fields of town planning, preservation, and sustainability. All are familiar with the unique conditions of St. John and respect and recognize the value of community. The team has successfully worked on plans in the territories and are currently working together on the territory-wide Comprehensive Land & Water Use Plan (CLWUP). The team is ready to listen and learn, build relationships, and help the community build the best plan forward for Cruz Bay. The charrette for Cruz Bay will take place June 11 – 16, 2023. During this time, the planning team will set up a design studio in town and host a series of interactive workshops, meetings, and planning sessions. By working on-site, this important plan will be created in real time, in public, with continuous opportunities to share and gather community input. After the charrette, the planning team will return to their home offices to refine the plans, visualizations, and produce a draft plan document. Updates to the project website and communication from Love City Strong will continue to ensure that the plans and corresponding visualizations and policy recommendations meet the goals of the community. The plan will help inform the territory-wide Comprehensive Land & Water Use Plan (CLWUP) as well as government decisions on the direction of development of public lands. Once the draft plan from the charrette is refined, the planning team will return to St. John and present plan recommendations. We hope you’ll join us for this exciting opportunity to shape the future of Cruz Bay, address the most pressing needs of St. John residents, and establish a lasting legacy for generations to come. If you have questions or feedback, please reach out to Love City Strong Executive Director Meaghan Enright via email, meaghan@lovecitystrongvi.org, or during office hours at Suite 102 in The Marketplace.

2023 Forecast

In April, Colorado State University released their first long range forecast for the 2023 Atlantic Hurricane Season. According to the research team, this season could be slightly below average due to El Niño conditions in the Pacific Ocean. Their projections are for 13 named storms, including 6 hurricanes, 2 of which they expect to be major (Category 3 or higher) storms. These numbers are slightly below the 1991 to 2020 average per year. You may be saying, below average? Great news! However, as we all know, it only takes one storm to create significant damage in our community. Even a below average season can produce above average damage for an island or region. In order to plan proactively and be prepared in the event of a disaster, we must each take a moment to step back and assess our risk, whether at home, at school, at work, or within our communities.

What is Risk Assessment?

The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction defines disaster risk assessment as “a qualitative or quantitative approach to determine the nature and extent of disaster risk by analyzing potential hazards and evaluating existing conditions of exposure and vulnerability that together could harm people, property, services, livelihoods, and the environment on which they depend”. What does that mean for you? Risk assessment on a personal level is the process of taking in all the information you have about a given threat, like a potential hurricane, along with all that you know about your home and your life, and deciding how likely it is that this hazard (the hurricane) will inflict harm. In the context of the 2023 hurricane season forecast, our first inclination might be to feel relief at the prospect of a “slow season”. However, upon examination maybe we remember that we haven’t had the trees on the property trimmed in a while, or that we never did find that one shutter for our bedroom window. Perhaps we recall that our neighbor down the street is still living in a home with a damaged roof, or that a member of our church needs to keep their insulin cold. Understanding the risk for wind damage or for extended power outages can help us to prepare for these needs.

Understanding Hazards and Forecasts

We can often become complacent about “small” hurricanes, or “just” tropical storms, but the reality is that these systems are capable of just as much damage. Just last fall, Fiona made landfall in Puerto Rico as a Category 1 storm, but dropped more than 30 inches of rain in two days, triggering catastrophic flooding across the island. We’ve all experienced tropical systems moving through the territory that seem so much more intense than expected, with gusting winds and intense periods of rain. The reality is that these weather patterns are mercurial, subject to change and constant variability. A storm that is headed our way may, to our relief, skirt to our south, and a storm we expected to pass by at a safe distance may make a strong turn and make landfall in the territory. The best course of action is to always be prepared. Internally at Love City Strong, we generally prepare as if a storm will be two categories stronger than forecast. The same approach should be taken for rain forecasts – if we’re expected to get 2 to 4 inches, imagine what the impact would be of 6 to 8 inches, and prepare for that. Over prepared is always best. As we count down until the start of hurricane season on June 1st, it’s important to be proactive and plan ahead. Fire up your generator, check your emergency kit, restock any necessary items. Most importantly, talk about your emergency plans with your family, your neighbors, and your colleagues. The more we normalize conversations about preparedness, the more easily we can support each other in times of crisis.
At Love City Strong, we believe that a community-based approach to preparedness is critical to success in disaster response. Research and first hand experience both show that when we are more prepared as families and neighborhoods, we improve recovery outcomes. When embraced year-round in an all-hazards context, community preparedness improves the ability of individuals and groups to limit the effects of hazard impacts and manage their resources until help arrives. As residents of island communities, isolated by definition, it is particularly important to lean into individual and community preparedness. Our communities thrive when we develop internal resources, skill sets, and commodities that help jump start response and recovery following a disaster.  According to FEMA, many people who believe themselves “prepared” have really done very little in the way of preparation. In a survey, 40 percent of respondents did not have household plans, and nearly 60 percent did not know their community’s evacuation routes. Perhaps most troubling, while 20 percent of respondents indicated that they had a disability that would affect their capacity to respond to an emergency situation, only 1 in 4 of those reported having made any arrangements specific to that disability to help them stay safe in the event of an emergency.   So where can you begin? Community preparedness has three parts: take personal responsibility, seek out training and skill building opportunities, and connect with your community.  Take Personal Responsibility You can’t support your neighbors and friends if you are struggling yourself. Make emergency planning for your household and your family a priority. Create an emergency plan, practice it regularly, and make sure that each member of your household is taken into account, including the needs of children and pets. Household preparedness includes building an emergency kit, learning evacuation routes and shelter locations, and planning financially for hazard impacts.  Seek Out Training and Skill Building In the event of a disaster, you may be the first help on hand for someone. There are many opportunities to build the skills necessary to be helpful in a response, from first aid and CPR to Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training, to HAM radio operations, and much more. In the US Virgin Islands, if you’re interested in being a medical first responder, each island has a Rescue organization you can volunteer with. For all-hazards training, you can register for CERT through the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA). Another resource is your local Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), which can connect you with volunteer opportunities. Connect With Your Community Knowing your community is key in the aftermath of a disaster. You can start small, by making sure you know your neighbors. Who has medical issues? Who has access and functional needs that might require extra support in an emergency? Connect with your church or your local community organizations to see how you may be able to volunteer. Reach out to your local business community, including Rotary and Chamber of Commerce, to start important conversations about business continuity of operations (a topic for another day!) and emergency planning. One of the most important things after a disaster is making sure resources reach those most in need, and by knowing your community, you can help ensure that happens.  Here in the US Virgin Islands, we are used to the issues that surround hurricane preparedness. What we’ve learned over the past two years as a result of the pandemic, however, is that we can’t anticipate when, what, or where the next crisis will be. The best way to make sure our communities are safer, more resilient, and more prepared, is to start close to home.   For more resources, please visit our website, www.lovecitystrongvi.org