This year, Puerto Ricans have to deal with additional challenges in facing a hurricane season expected to be more active than normal.
The 2020 hurricane season officially starts in a month. For Puerto Rico, this brings special challenges in the face of vulnerability. The island is in the process of recovering from Hurricane María, which hit the island in 2017; a series of earthquakes striking since December 2019; and the current coronavirus pandemic.
Like the rest of the U.S., Puerto Rico observes National Hurricane Preparedness Week, which kicked off on Sunday. The initiative addresses hurricane-specific topics during the duration of the week, with a focus on the specific circumstances of the current situation.
“People understand we are going through an unprecedented moment. They know it’s not just the pandemic that is happening, you also have earthquakes. Last weekend was a clear reminder that the active seismic sequence will not yield immediately,” says chief WAPA-TV meteorologist Ada Monzón.
Last Saturday, a 5.4 magnitude earthquake affected the southern region of the island. The epicenter of the tremor was near the city of Ponce and the towns of Guánica and Guayanilla, where hundreds of homes were destroyed by a quake in early January, killing one person and causing millions of dollars in damage.
The earthquake situation is an additional risk Puerto Rico will have to face during this year’s hurricane season.
“These are all independent events that intertwine into a situation we have to deal with. Perhaps we might not have the tools to deal with all three aspects at once. But we have to find a way to do so. For starters, people have to take care of their health—̦that’s a priority,” says Monzón.
She explains the safety of structures where people live is important, especially in the southern region of Puerto Rico, where buildings have been affected by earthquakes during the past four months.
The meteorologist, who is also the founder of Ecoexplotatorio, a science museum located in San Juan’s Plaza Las Américas shopping center, explains that experts, authorities, and emergency agencies still have many questions regarding new protocols for this year’s hurricane season. The coronavirus pandemic has changed all known protocols.
“Moving to shelters is now going to be more difficult. All of this has happened in a short amount of time, putting a lot of pressure on government, municipal and individual resources,” Monzón says.
The economic impact of the pandemic on thousands of Puerto Rico’s families, who may not be able to buy emergency supplies, affects the population’s preparedness.
“When there are people whose food security, and the safety of their homes, have been affected, how will they be able to afford storm shutters, home insurance, masks, and gloves? Hurricanes, COVID-19, and earthquakes each bring their own requirements. We have to see how we are going to deal with each of these scenarios. With the pandemic, many people have learned to live with more supplies, without having to go to the supermarket so much,” Monzón says.
Weather forecasters have predicted a very active hurricane season. According to a study conducted by meteorologists at Colorado State University, there will be about 40% more storm activity than the average season.
“Forecasters have indicated that weather conditions could bring an impactful hurricane season. Four strong hurricanes are expected instead of the usual two. Considering the warm water temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean, the 2020 season could be active and extremely destructive. If that’s the case, we must be prepared,” says Monzón.