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. 

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.
When it comes to disaster preparedness and management, it is so critical to continue to learn, and to know what’s next. This week, Executive Director Meaghan Enright and Operations Manager Mandy Lemley traveled to New York City to attend the National Disaster and Emergency Management Expo, a conference focused on new trends, products, and strategies in the disaster and emergency management space. Several seminars were of particular interest, including two presentations by SBP, a nonprofit founded in Louisiana that works in disaster recovery across the country. The SBP presentations, on racial and social equity in disaster and supporting rural communities impacted by disaster, both spoke to the challenges that the U.S. Virgin Islands faces in our recovery. Another panel of particular interest related to weather forecasting and disasters. Andrew Kruczkiewicz, a Senior Staff Associate at Columbia Climate School International Research Institute for Climate and Society spoke about integrating forecasting into decision making. For example, using seasonal precipitation forecasts to identify regions at higher than average risk of floods, and deploying resources accordingly. This type of forecasting is particularly useful for national and international humanitarian aid organizations, but can also be useful on a smaller scale when it comes to understanding local flash flooding risks. Another area of interest presented at the conference was the potential applications of machine learning in disaster preparedness and response. For St. John and the greater U.S. Virgin Islands, we are particularly interested in the use of A.I. to expedite preliminary damage assessments in the aftermath of disasters. Expediting the timeline PDAs accelerates distribution of disaster relief funding, and AI technology can also help ensure that damage awards more accurately reflect the cost of reconstruction. The final session on Thursday, November 17th was titled “The Next Generation : Climate Change and Disaster Management Perspectives”. Sessions like this are great examples of the high level conversations that drive innovation and progress across the industry. As Love City Strong continues to grow and expand our work in disaster preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation, we need to keep in mind the developing impacts of climate change as well as trends and new approaches within the field. Spending a few days away from the Territory with like-minded disaster management professionals is an excellent opportunity to infuse new ideas and perspectives into our work.
National Preparedness Month is in its final week! This year’s theme is “A Lasting Legacy: The life you’ve built is worth protecting.” All month long we are sharing tips and best practices related to individual, household, and community preparedness. Preparing for disasters is important for you and your family – including your pets! This week’s topic is: Pet Preparedness Our pets are family, no doubt about it. It makes sense, therefore, that when we make a plan for the rest of the household, we also plan for our pets. Sheltering, food and water, entertainment, safety… all of these are important considerations for our human AND animal family.  Make a Plan for your Pet By planning in advance, you can help minimize stress on yourself and your pet. Due to rapidly changing circumstances, you may need to make decisions quickly in an emergency. For example, if you need to go to a shelter, make sure they can accommodate your pet. If they can’t, you’ll need alternate, safe arrangements for them. Most importantly, do not leave your pet behind – they could end up lost, injured, or worse. 
  • Have an evacuation plan for your pet. In addition to knowing shelter policies, make sure you have the necessary documentation to ensure that your pet can travel with you if needed. 
  • Plan with neighbors, friends, or family to make sure that someone can take care of your pet if you are unable to do so. 
  • Get your pet microchipped! Keep your address and phone number up to date and include emergency contact information. 
Build a Kit for your Pet During Pet Preparedness Month in June, our Friends at the Humane Society of St Thomas outlined the top 10 items you should include in your pet preparedness kit:
  1. Food: At least a three-day supply in an airtight, waterproof container. 
  2. Water: At least three days of water specifically for your pets. 
  3. Medicines and medical records: Most boarding kennels, veterinarians and animal shelters will need your pet’s medical records to make sure all vaccinations are current in case of emergency.   
  4. Important documents, for example, registration information, adoption papers and vaccination documents. Talk to your veterinarian about microchipping and enrolling your pet in a recovery database. 
  5. First aid kit, including cotton bandage rolls, bandage tape and scissors, antibiotic ointment, flea and tick prevention, latex gloves, isopropyl alcohol and saline solution. In addition, including a pet first aid reference book is a good idea. 
  6. Collar or harness with ID tag, rabies tag and a leash. 
  7. Crate or pet carrier: Have a sturdy, safe crate or carrier in case you need to evacuate. The carrier should be large enough for your pet to stand, turn around and lie down.  
  8. Sanitation: Pet litter and litter box if appropriate, newspapers, paper towels, plastic trash bags and household chlorine bleach. 
  9. A picture of you and your pet together: If you become separated, a picture of you and your pet together will help you document ownership and allow others to assist you. Add species, breed, age, sex, color and distinguishing characteristics. 
  10. Familiar items such as treats, toys and bedding can help reduce stress for your pet. 
Stay Informed Be prepared and stay informed about current conditions. Pay attention to alerts sent by local government and emergency management agencies and listen to evacuation orders. Above all, always bring pets inside at the first sign of a storm or disaster. There’s no better time to start preparing than today! For more information on how to create a written emergency plan, including downloadable plan templates, videos, and activities to get children involved in the preparation process, visit www.ready.gov/pets. For up to date, reliable forecasts, visit the National Hurricane Center website. In the Virgin Islands, specific alerts, watches, and warnings are available on VITEMA’s website, or you can sign up for AlertVI.
As National Hurricane Preparedness Month continues, this week we’re focusing on preparing kids and teens for disaster situations.  Throughout September, we are sharing information about the importance of individual and household preparedness. Not only is this true for adults, but also for the youth in your household and community. When young people are involved in the preparedness process, it helps to ensure that they feel safe, secure, and comfortable when a disaster strikes. These discussions don’t need to be complicated. First, establish a set time for open, honest dialogue with children and teens to discuss preparedness. Then, talk to them about the different kinds of hazards that could impact your community. Help them understand how the act of preparing beforehand will help keep you and your family safe. Let them ask questions, and do your best to answer them honestly and simply. Finally, as you respond, try to frame your answers in language they will understand, depending on their current stage of development. Each person in your household should have a role in preparedness. Younger children can collect pre-identified items to go in your household emergency kit. Older children can help do research on potential hazards, or type up your written plan. Teenagers age 14 and up can work with your local emergency response agency to establish a Teen Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) in your community.  Once the kids and teens in your household are involved in your preparedness, encourage them to talk to their friends, classmates, faith leaders, and teachers about their preparedness. Create a strategy for children to share their knowledge and participate in preparedness activities with their peers. This can help normalize the preparedness process in your community. Don’t wait—Start preparing today! To find more information on how to get children involved in the preparedness process, including interactive games, activities, and videos made especially for children and teens, visit www.ready.gov/kids  For up to date, reliable forecasts, visit the National Hurricane Center website. In the Virgin Islands, specific alerts, watches, and warnings can be found on VITEMA’s website, or sign up for AlertVI.
National Preparedness Month is in full swing! This year’s theme is “A Lasting Legacy: The life you’ve built is worth protecting.” Therefore, throughout September we are sharing tips and best practices related to different aspects of preparedness. Preparing for disasters will help create a lasting legacy for you and your family. This week’s topic is: Build a Kit. An emergency kit should include everything that you and your household would need to survive after a disaster. Remember, you may be without electricity, without essential services, and without access to your home for a minimum of seven days.  Non-perishable food, water, medications, first aid supplies, alternative power sources, and copies of your important personal documents are just a few of the essential components that make up a strong emergency kit. You can visit Ready.gov for a comprehensive list of items to keep in your kit.  Every emergency kit is unique. Include the basics needed for survival, as well as items that will make you and your family feel safe and comfortable, both during and after a disaster. This could include toys, a favorite book, a deck of cards, stuffed animals, or a sketchbook or journal. Make sure to include back up glasses or contact lenses, extra batteries for hearing aids, and other items you may need if you’re away from home for an extended period of time.  With COVID-19 still impacting communities around the world, it’s also a good idea to include some extra masks, a digital thermometer, hand sanitizer, and surface cleaning supplies, to help keep your family safe and healthy.  If you have pets, they should have their own emergency kit! Visit the Humane Society’s pet preparedness guide for everything you need to know about creating the best kit for your pets. It’s never too early to start preparing for a disaster. Evidence shows that those who are prepared with an emergency plan and kit prior to a disaster impact have better outcomes than those who don’t. Building your emergency kits together can help your family address anxieties and fears related to disasters, and offer children in particular a sense of control in unfamiliar circumstances. Start today – build a kit!
National Preparedness Month is in full swing! This year’s theme is “A Lasting Legacy: The life you’ve built is worth protecting.” Therefore, throughout September we are sharing tips and best practices related to individual, household, and community preparedness. Preparing for disasters will help create a lasting legacy for you and your family. What’s the best place to start preparing? Make a plan! An emergency plan is a detailed, written set of actions you will take in the event of an emergency. It includes things like where you’ll go if you cannot shelter in place, how you’ll communicate with loved ones both near and far, what your plans are for your pets, and more. For a full description of what to include in your emergency plan, visit Ready.gov/plan
Remember : writing your emergency plan down and discussing it with your family, friends, and neighbors can help manage any fear that exists around potential disasters. Involving kids in the planning process can help ease their anxiety and build confidence as they learn what to do in an emergency.
Once you’ve finalized your plan, bring your neighbors and loved ones into the conversation. Sharing your plan saves valuable time for first responders who are checking on people after a disaster. Furthermore, it gives your loved ones peace of mind that you will be safe.
Useful Tip : appoint an out of town friend or family member as your designated point of contact. Put them in charge of reaching out to designated people to let them know that you are safe after a disaster. By notifying your “point of contact” with one call, you save time and resources. This is particularly important if there is prolonged power loss or damage to communication services.
Without a doubt, an emergency plan is the foundation for individual and family preparedness. The more prepared that you and your household are, the less reliant on post-disaster services you will need be. As a result, more of your time and energy can be spent helping others, which helps your community recovery in the long run.  There’s no better time to start preparing than today! For more information on how to create a written emergency plan, including downloadable plan templates, videos, and activities, visit www.ready.gov/plan. Visit the National Hurricane Center website for up to date, reliable forecasts. Finally, remember to visit VITEMA’s website or sign up for AlertVI to get USVI specific alerts, watches, and warnings.
Each year around this time, we emphasize how important it is to build your kit. Generally emergency kits follow a formula : food, water, medicine, important documents… a complete list can be downloaded from Ready.gov. However, all families and households are unique, so what should you consider when building YOUR kit that will ensure it is useful for the whole household? Access and Functional Needs If someone in your household has access and functional needs, make sure to prioritize their supplies. This may mean packing an extra pair of prescription glasses or back up contact lenses. Perhaps hearing aids and back up batteries are your priority. Any medical supplies your family uses regularly, like oxygen, insulin, or catheters, for example, should be included. If anyone wears medical alert bracelets or tags, ensure that they are on at all times. For more information on Emergency Preparedness for Individuals with Disabilities and Access and Functional Needs, click here Children and Young Adults Packing a kit for a household that includes small children or young adults is going to be very case specific. Are you a card game or board game family? Pack one or two of your favorite (and smallest) games. Is your teen a big reader? Throw in some favorite books, a book light, and a backup battery or two. If your teen is a gamer, packing a handheld device and an external charger can provide plenty of entertainment. For younger children, a favorite, comforting toy or blanket can help alleviate anxiety, and movies or tv shows downloaded onto a computer or tablet can provide a distraction in a pinch. Ready Kids has lots more great information about kids’ preparedness! Seniors Seniors’ comfort should be a top priority. If you are sheltering at home this is more straightforward, but if you need to go to a shelter or evacuate on short notice after a storm, your emergency kit should include a blanket, spare clothes, a jacket, comfortable shoes, and any backup supplies you may need, like adult briefs or wound dressings. Talk to seniors in your family about what forms of entertainment they prefer, and plan accordingly. For more information about how to prepare older adults for a disaster, visit the Red Cross website.  Pets Pet Preparedness is a topic all its own! In fact, it has its own month! June is Pet Preparedness Month, and all month long Love City Strong will be spotlighting tips and best practices for keeping your animals safe during a storm. Stay tuned to our website and social media for more information!
We often focus on community preparedness here at Love City Strong, but resilience really begins with personal preparedness. When you’re on a plane and the flight attendant is giving the safety lecture, they always tell you, in the event of an emergency, place your mask on first before helping those around you. Personal preparedness functions in much the same way. By taking action early to ensure that you are as ready as possible, you make yourself more available to help your family, friends, and neighbors in the event of a disaster. Here are a few tips to help improve your overall readiness, particularly during hurricane season: Know your needs Do you have dietary restrictions? Are you on a daily medication? Do you struggle to function without that morning cup of coffee? All of these are things you can plan for in advance. Make sure you have the food you need on hand, and speak to your doctor about how to safely and responsibly build an emergency supply of medication. If coffee is your lifeblood, include a camp stove and a coffee press in your emergency kit! Know your surroundings Maybe your home is surrounded by trees, or maybe you’re exposed to a breeze even on a calm day. Understanding your surroundings is the first step to understanding your risk. Check your home and property for potential hazards, and take steps to address them where necessary. Know the process Make sure you have emergency contact information written down and readily available. Include family, friends, and neighbors as well as work, insurance, and emergency numbers. Do you have a pet? Include your vet’s number as well. Plan financially Even if you can’t spare much, it’s important to try and set aside some emergency cash to have on hand. Whether you save your spare change and singles all year round, or team up with your roommates to start a household emergency fund, or have a savings account that serves the purpose, find a strategy that’s manageable for you and begin the journey. For more information about this and other aspects of financial preparedness, check out this article on Ready.gov. Think about the “what ifs” Take a few minutes and imagine what might happen if a storm came through tomorrow. Would you lose power? Would your car be secure? Would you need to reconnect with your family at a predetermined rally point, or would you likely be together? Use the preparedness planning process to poke holes in all the scenarios you can think of, and revise your plan accordingly. Of course personal preparedness includes many things that we talk about in the context of community preparedness as well. Building a kit, making a plan, strengthening your home… all familiar concepts. The important thing to remember is to address these things in ever expanding circles, starting with yourself, then your family, then neighbors and colleagues, and the greater community. Following these steps now will make you much more useful to them in the event of a disaster!
Here we are in May, again, and it’s time to start thinking about our hurricane preparedness efforts. For those of us who live in “hurricane alley”, these tasks are annual habits. Forming habits can be helpful, but sometimes they can make us complacent. Each year, it’s important to revisit your emergency plan, check your kit, and make sure your home and family are ready for the season.  Threats from hurricanes include powerful winds, heavy rainfall, storm surges, coastal and inland flooding, rip currents, tornadoes, and landslides. Hurricanes can often undergo rapid intensification, meaning they can quickly gain strength before and as they make landfall. For this reason, it’s important to begin your preparation well in advance of an incoming storm. Before hurricane season starts, you should:
  • Update your emergency plan with your family
  • Check your insurance and strengthen your home
  • Assemble disaster supplies
  • Help your neighbors
Update Your Emergency Plan Your emergency plan is a critical part of your family’s preparedness. It should include shelter in place details and/or evacuation plans, including a rally point if the family is separated for some reason. Each member of your family should participate in developing your plan, including the kids! Plan for medical needs, food, water, pets, critical documents, entertainment during the storm impact period, power outages… anything that may affect your family’s ability to weather the storm safely and comfortably. Make sure that you identify emergency contacts, including at least one outside of your area, and that everyone in your family has that contact information readily available. Write down your plan, and keep it handy along with any critical documents like insurance paperwork, a lease or mortgage, birth certificates, health insurance, and identification. Check Insurance and Strengthen Your Home Now is a good time, before we enter hurricane season, to check with your insurance company and make sure you’re up to date on your policy and the associated procedures. It’s also a great time to catch up on home maintenance: check your roof, gutters, and shutters, manage any debris, trim trees, and make a plan for any exterior furniture or loose items. The more of these tasks you can tackle now, the more time you will have for critical last minute preparations if a storm is incoming. Assemble Disaster Supplies Many of you probably already have an emergency kit and/or a “go bag”. Your emergency kit should include, but is not limited to, the following items: food and water for 5 to 7 days, prescription and non–prescription medications, a radio, batteries, chargers, work gloves and safety equipment, N95 masks, duct tape, and more. For a full list of items to include in your kit, visit Ready.gov Your “go bag” is an extension of your emergency kit and should contain items that would be critical to take with you if you need to evacuate on short notice. This includes identification and important documents, medications, a spare set of clothes and a raincoat, a first aid kit, cash, a multi-purpose tool, spare house and car keys, backup N95 masks, a flashlight, chargers, and a battery powered or hand crank radio. If you have a pet, consider a spare collar and leash, pet food, collapsible bowls for food and water, and any medications your pet may need.  These kits should be specific to your individual needs and the needs of your family, so be sure to give the contents careful thought! Help Your Neighbors Resilient communities benefit from collaboration and cooperation. As you go about your preparedness exercises, check in with your friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Making sure that your community is prepared will help make your family more secure as well! What are your hurricane preparedness tips and tricks? Visit Love City Strong on Facebook and on Instagram (@lovecitystrong, share your experiences, and tag #LoveCityStrong so we can learn from you!