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Getting Under the Radar

Weather experts and regional government officials at the opening of the 50th Session of the Caribbean Meteorology Council.

Caribbean countries depend on cooperation regarding economic pursuits but beyond that, they rely on shared capabilities to provide early warning for storms and other severe weather threats.

The region's capacity for severe weather detection was one of the topics discussed at the 50th session of the Caribbean Meteorological Council at Cayman's Marriott Beach Resort.

"Regional cooperation is vital to achieve effective early weather warnings for our societies," said the Caribbean Meteorological Organisation's Coordinating Director Tyrone Sutherland.

He explained that a weather radar network exists in the Caribbean which seeks to provide coverage and early warning services for the entire region. The network includes Doppler systems in Belize, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, and Trinidad.

"This equipment is also part of a wider regional network involving radar stations in the French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, as well as the European Space Agency in French Guiana," he said.

Stations in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and St. Maarten are to be added to the network to form a radar fence stretching along the South American coast to Trinidad, then along the Eastern Caribbean Islands and moving westward across the Greater Antilles to Jamaica, Belize and Central America.

The region's capacity will be further boosted by a weather radar station to be constructed in the Cayman Islands in 2011. That, Mr. Sutherland said, will plug the black hole that currently exists in coverage of the northern Caribbean.

"By 'black hole' we mean that there is no radar signal in the area, which puts us at a disadvantage in getting timely and accurate data when severe weather threatens," he explained.

Director General of the Cayman Islands National Weather Service Fred Sambula noted that Cayman and other countries work closely with the National Hurricane Centre in Miami Florida to access local information.

"However it is difficult for us to get up-to-the-minute readings on weather developments that form in this part of the region; we have to rely on satellite imagery which is not as accurate and current as a radar reading.

"Satellite imagery also fails to give a clear and accurate picture as it relates to data such as locating the centre of a system.

"For one, the satellite imagery is a still photo, while radar information is a moving image, so we are able to get a clearer picture of the characteristics of a system and better predict its movement," Mr. Sambula said.

The Cayman Islands' weather radar project is being jointly funded by the European Union and the Cayman government. Once established, the new Doppler radar will be the centrepiece of the local early warning system and will be integrated into the CMO network.

Minister of District Administration, Works, Lands and Agriculture, the Hon. Juliana O'Connor-Connolly, JP said that government is committed to establishing the radar, having seen regionally, the devastating impact that hurricanes continue to have.

"Cayman experienced both Ivan and Paloma, and recently we saw the effects of Tomas in St. Lucia. These events underscore why a robust early warning system is critical," she said.

For further information contact: Prudence Barnes