June 1, 1998
June 1st marks the start of hurricane season. Since hurricanes have the potential to cause more damage to the forest community than any other natural or manmade disaster, we follow them carefully from now until November 30th, the official end of the hurricane season. In our part of the Caribbean, August and September are the months of greatest hurricane danger.
If you were born within the last year and think a hurricane is some sort of speedy walking stick, read this bulletin immediately and carefully. If you are more than a year old, you most likely read this bulletin last year. No need to read it again. Keep alert for further bulletins.
Knowledge is power, and the purpose of this bulletin is to make you knowledgeable about hurricanes. Let’s start with the name. The word “hurricane” was around long before Mr. Lizard Cuckoo lost his family back in 1780. It comes from the Taino Indians, who lived on this island a thousand years before Spanish ships appeared on the horizon. Their word was huracán, which also became the Spanish word for this storm.
And how do hurricanes differ from other storms? First, they are huge, up to a thousand miles wide. Second, they travel in a swirling circular pattern around a center of low pressure. Third, they produce high winds. If winds are clocked at 75 miles per hour (121 kph) or higher, the storm is declared a hurricane. And fourth, rain. Hurricanes dump a lot of rain, often more than a foot of rain in an hour’s time.
The wind, the rain, and the length of time it takes for a hurricane to pass over the forest can all work together to produce great damage. DO NOT TAKE A HURRICANE LIGHTLY. Learn how you and your species can protect yourselves from a hurricane, and watch for future bulletins. They will be posted when a hurricane forms.
Chirp from Sandy Snail:
If anyone wants to know what a swirling circular pattern looks like, they can look at us. We C. caracolla snails have a lovely flat shell that is an excellent example of the spiral pattern. We are usually found half-hidden on the forest floor.
Chirp from Warren Woodpecker:
I must speak up for another member of the bird community, a member who is usually not here in the forest himself (editor’s note: or herself). I refer to the magnificent frigatebird, Fregata magnificens, or as it is known locally, the rabijunco. This beautiful bird is often seen floating motionless in the air over bays and inshore waters. At times it changes its flight pattern, flying farther inland in a less-than-graceful manner. This is one of the most important natural indicators that a hurricane is coming. (Another name for the bird is the hurricane bird.) Back when Mr. Lizard Cuckoo first started this bulletin, the uncommon flight of the magnificent frigatebird was one of the most important indicators that a hurricane was coming. I say “thank you” to this unsung hero.
Chirp from Anita Anole:
When I read this bulletin last year, I wondered why you said the hurricane season was from June to November. What’s to stop one from coming in January, or March? So I went to the forest library, and I’d like to share with you what I found. Hurricanes need warm water to form. The ocean needs to be around 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. That is why hurricanes don’t form in cold places like the Arctic Ocean, and why they don’t form in winter months. Even in warm places like the Caribbean, the water is in the low to mid ‘80s in the winter.
Chirp from Peter Sierra Palm:
I’d like to comment on the heavy rains. I live along the banks of the Icacos River, about ten feet above the water line. I often wished I lived closer to the river and used to envy my young friend Pam, another sierra palm who lived about two feet above the water line. In 1989, Hurricane Hugo passed through the forest. The rain was so heavy, I could scarcely see plants that were a foot (0.3 meters) away. Before long, the river started to rise. I could actually see the shadowy form of water rising, covering rocks and inching its way up the bank. Before long, it was above the roots and lower trunk of my friend Pam. A bit later, it reached my roots, then my lower trunk. I couldn’t see any part of Pam. It was all I could do to hold onto the soil with my roots, which were quite well anchored. When the water reached the middle of my trunk, I thought I was a goner. But then it started to recede. When the river returned to normal, Pam was gone.
Chirp from Marv Mushroom:
My father went through a hurricane nine years ago. He was on the forest floor. He saw a gust of wind take a palm tree branch and hurl it at the trunk of a tabonuco tree with such force that the tip of the palm branch went halfway through the trunk! It remains there to this day.