Travelling to Barbados in September, I knew I had to expect rain. Sun was also promised, as well as high temperatures; and we’ve had all of them. What I hadn’t expected was the swift and dramatic changes.
In England we believe we are accustomed to changeable weather, but from here, our collective whining makes us look like a country of drama queens; the variability we experience is confined to a relatively clement range; everything comes with a warning, the sun gradually disappears behind a cloud before the rain starts, and when it does start to fall, it begins gently, with little spray-like drops, and only after we’ve had time to fish our umbrellas out of the bottom of our bags, does it start in earnest.
There are no such warnings here. On Wednesday morning, we were sitting on the balcony soaking up bright sunshine and admiring the clear sky and the aquamarine sea when we were suddenly doused by great fat raindrops, as if someone had just turned a hosepipe on us. The shower rattled against the leaves on the palm trees and drummed on the roof. It was only later that the grey cloud sidled up above us, and then stayed for a couple of hours, driving us indoors, as the overhanging canopy outside was not enough to protect us from the angle of the rain.
After it was exhausted, the blue skies and sun reappeared as if by the click of a magician’s fingers, ta-da.
We have learnt that there is an important difference between rain, on the one hand, and a storm, on the other. Rain, albeit thunderous and plentiful, is part of life in the winter; a storm is something else altogether.
On Monday, E, who has been doing some diving while she’s here, was told that she might not be able to go out on Thursday as there was the chance of a storm, and the diving outfit would be taking their boat out of the water in anticipation. This set us both into internet research mode, properly studying a map of the Caribbean for the first time to see exactly where we are in relation to all the other islands, and tracking the path of the storm, now named Ophelia, ever since.
The US National Hurricane Centre has been the main source of data. When we first looked it hadn’t yet been named, she was but a system of winds with a 70% likelihood of turning into a tropical storm; this was then confirmed, and she became Ophelia. To date she’s still only a tropical storm and not a hurricane, and her path is now predicted as turning north before she gets too close to Barbados, so we can expect rain and wind but nothing significantly more.
A couple of local people have told me that Barbados last suffered a direct hurricane hit in 1955, when Janet arrived on 22 September, and there is a feeling that another one may be overdue. So everyone is aware when a storm system develops in a part of the ocean which might lead it to follow a path towards the island; they hope it will pass them by, but they make plans anyway.
I’ve really only just understood what that level of risk and uncertainty can do to you.