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Mines and Geology Division developing tool to predict storm surges

Published:Friday | July 26, 2019 | 9:23 AM
The Caribbean Terrace community following damage sustained to homes from storm surges during Hurricane Dean in 2007 - Contributed photo.

The Mines and Geology Division in the Ministry of Transport and Mining is far advanced in developing a tool to forecast storm surges in Jamaica.

Director of the Research and Mapping Unit at the Division, Canute Ricketts, made the disclosure in an interview with JIS News during the second International Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction held at the Ministry’s Hope Gardens headquarters on Wednesday.

The tool is currently at a specially selected site in Caribbean Terrace, St Andrew, which has been severely affected by hurricanes.

“It was built in 2017 and since then, there have been no major storms that impacted the island to really test it, and we will have to calibrate further in order to get it to the level of accuracy that would be required to use it for any major surge forecasting,” Ricketts said.

He told JIS News that the research came out of the need to accurately predict storm surges, given the devastating impact of such events on low-lying areas.

He noted that most of Jamaica’s coastline is prone to storm surge occurrences, highlighting Portland Cottage and Manchioneal as being among the areas of concern.

“Jamaica is a small island state where the entire island is deemed a coastal area. It is one that is highly prone to storm surge occurrences, and we have a long history of storm surges dating back 300 years.                                                                          

“When the first major storm surge occurred in a coastal community known as Queensland (now Passage Fort in Portmore), a 4.8-metre surge pretty much destroyed all of that development,” he noted.                                                                                     

Ricketts said there was another storm surge in Savanna-la-Mar in 1912 that went almost 800 metres landward.                                                                                          

“We are seeing the same thing now with Caribbean Terrace and some other areas, so we have recognised that there is a need for storm surge forecasting. Once we are able to forecast and determine what areas are more prone to storm surges, we’d then be able to plan the coastal environment better,” he pointed out.           

He said that the Mines and Geology Division has a role to play in the development approval process for the built environment, and the storm surge information would assist in designating areas that are prone to wave heights of a certain elevation as ‘no-build zones’. 

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