It's better to be disappointed than devastated - Jackson
As Haiti continues to reel in despair from the devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew, which has left at least 21 persons dead in the country, a total of 25 so far across the Caribbean, Jamaicans are called on to not only count their blessings, but to heed the warning and not use escaping its wrath as an excuse to ignore future weather projections.
As the system developed in the Caribbean last week, projections were that it was on a direct course for Jamaica. As it strengthened to a powerful hurricane, at one point a category five, all indications were that Jamaica would be significantly affected as Matthew inched its way to the eastern end of the island.
Persons flooded supermarkets and other stores to stock up on supplies, and many battened down homes, businesses, and properties in preparation as Jamaica was placed on high alert as the category four system moved menacingly towards the island.
But as Jamaica braced itself, awaiting the hurricane, it continued to move further away from the island and closer to the west end of Haiti.
Jamaica was spared the worst of its wrath, but Haiti was hit a devastating blow, the hurricane killing several persons and severely damaging property. Cuba was hit next, the hurricane causing extensive destruction. Authorities are still assessing the extent of the damage as communication is down and many areas are inaccessible.
Several Jamaicans have expressed disappointment and have accused the forecasters of making wrong projections.
Ronald Jackson, head of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), in an interview with The Gleaner yesterday, said that several things can contribute to systems changing course over a period of time.
Jackson strongly suggested that individuals continue to be vigilant as it is expected that there will be rapid development of other systems as it gets closer to the end of the hurricane season in November.
"I can't speak to how persons are likely to react in the future. What I can tell you, though, is, if you were to ask the people in Haiti if they had to choose between being prepared, battening down, and being left disappointed as opposed to the devastation they are experiencing now, I am sure they would prefer the disappointment," he argued.
"The point I'm making is that you can never be too prepared. We are dealing with something major. There are many variables in nature that we can't necessarily forecast a long time ahead of their occurrence. We can't forecast subtle paths that hurricanes will take. You can't forecast that a rift or trough will hold or not hold for a length of time. To not put people on alert with enough time to prepare themselves would be irresponsible," he declared.
He said, however, that commendations must be given to Caribbean citizens, especially in Jamaica, for the level of preparedness that was displayed on the weekend.
“This is the message we want to convey to the public. The fact is, more than likely, there will be other times when you will be disappointed by the fact that you would have had to do all this work and nothing happened, but the alternative is not to do all this work and something happens,” he said.
He continued, “Certainly, we’re much better in terms of reacting to the messages. For quite some time, the national disaster systems in the Caribbean have been putting this message out in terms of being prepared, and I think we are reaping the benefits of that. Recent events are also fresh in the minds of persons.”
Jackson added, “A meteorologist can use all the information available to him by all of the tools that have been deployed to collect information on the system and to give his best technical advice. The rest is out of his control.”