MANAGUA – Top hurricane prognosticators are predicting even more storms this year than last year’s torrential rainy season, sounding off alarms in a country that is still recovering from the devastating effects of last year’s category-five Hurricane Felix.
“People are going to be scared when they hear about these high predictions,” said Mauricio Rosales, head meteorologist at the Nicaraguan Institute of Territorial Studies (INETER). “If another hurricane hits, it’s going to be very serious.”
Early April rains in parts of Nicaragua last week – in the heart of the “dry season” – are a sign of things to come, one meteorologist here says, suggesting that the storm-forming phenomenon “La Niña” is still alive and well.
Though others claim La Niña is no longer a threat, two expert hurricane forecasters this week upped their 2008 prediction from 13 to 15 named storms, and from seven to eight hurricanes.
Four of those hurricanes are predicted to be intense – a more active forecast than last year, when Felix smashed into Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast in September, wiping entire communities off the map. The destruction and resulting political fallout from that hurricane is still playing itself out today, as the Supreme Elections Council postponed the upcoming municipal elections in three storm-ravaged communities (see related story, Pages 1-2).
The two storm forecasters, William Gray and Phil Klotzbach, of ColoradoStateUniversity, released a grim forecast during a hurricane conference in the Bahamas, citing the possibility that a weak version of La Niña could extend into the June-November hurricane season. La Niña is an atmospheric condition in which reduced temperatures on the Pacific Ocean encourage storm formation.
INETER meteorologist Milagro Castro said La Niña may be the reason Nicaragua’s Central Pacific basin saw a record amount rainfall on the weekend of April 5.
Normally, Nicaragua’s dry season lasts until May, producing occasional early and scattered rains in mid to late April. But this year, Central Pacific basin towns like Masatepe and Nandaime have already seen record amounts of rainfall for April.
In a 12-hour period beginning April 5, Masatepe saw 130 milliliters of rain – more than the town normally gets in the entire month of June. The rains were the result of a combination of low-pressure systems, increased heat and high humidity, according to Castro.
“It’s likely that the La Niña phenomenon has been accelerating this April’s increase (in rainfall),” Castro said in a phone interview from INETER’s meteorology center at the Augusto C. Sandino airport in Managua.
Others are more skeptical of La Niña’s effects. Major weather centers such as the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say that La Niña, which began in August, has worn itself out and is practically insignificant now.
But in Nicaragua, INETER’s Rosales said Nicaraguan meteorologists are studying whether La Niña is still having an effect.
INETER is currently finalizing its rain forecast for the rainy season months of May, June and July, and will be releasing the predictions at a regional climate change conference in Managua at the end of the month.
Rosales said Nicaragua should start planning now for the next hurricanes. The vulnerable Northern Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) should be the first to receive attention, he said.
Not only is the RAAN still recovering from last year’s Felix, but it has the highest risk of being hit again by another hurricane this year. The northern Caribbean region of Cabo Gracias de Dios has a frightening 36% chance of being hit by another hurricane, according to forecasters.
“That’s to say that it’s affected by one in every three hurricanes,” Rosales said. Considering more than three hurricanes are predicted to hit this year, the region could be in for trouble.
“We’ll have to take measures to prevent possible impacts,” the meteorologist stressed.
The Nica Times tried contacting the Director of the National System of Disaster Prevention (SINAPRED), Ramon Arnesto, to find out about plans in the face of the increased hurricane predictions, but didn’t receive a response as of press time.