Since Thursday, Jamaica has been watching what will come of Matthew. What began as a tropical storm has now turned into a powerful hurricane, fluctuating for the last 24 hours between category 4 and category 5. On Friday morning, people were talking about how the storm was a commercial hoax designed for us to buy more grocery provisions. By Friday evening, windows were being boarded up and store shelves were rapidly emptying. Here are some things I am learning, observing and doing as we prepare for the storm:

  • The official levels of urgency increases in incredibly cautious increments. First we had a tropical storm advisory, then a hurricane advisory, then a hurricane watch, and now a hurricane warning. From what I understand, these increments are intended to signal how likely and how dire the impact of the storm might be, however most people seem to consider the words to be interchangeable when it comes to preparing; either you need to prepare or you don’t.
  • The course of Matthew is still uncertain at this time, but the likelihood that it will pass between Jamaica and Hispaniola is very high. Likewise, even if the eye of the storm misses the island, the breadth of the storm is so wide that it will likely still encompass the entire island as it moves northbound.
  • The “category” of hurricane has to do with how fast the wind is travelling. “Since complete hurricane records began in the Atlantic in 1851, there have been only four other Category 3 or stronger hurricanes to make landfall in Jamaica. The last was Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 — the most destructive hurricane in Jamaica’s history — which hit Jamaica at a slightly lesser strength than what Matthew was early Friday afternoon.” via Eric Holthaus for Pacific Standard
  • Unexpected but somewhat obvious preparations going on around town include 1.5km of traffic backed up to access the shopping mall, people taping grids and Xs on their large window panes to keep them from shattering, removal of awnings and detachable signage from buildings, and urgent trimming of trees.
  • Even though today (Saturday) has ended up being beautiful – eerily calm and sweltering hot (the security guard at work said, “the hurricane has sucked all the breeze and coolness out of the air around it”) – apparently Palisadoes Rd that leads to the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston is already experiencing storm surges that have resulted in debris on the road.
  • In addition to notices on Twitter and Facebook, the High Commission has sent emails to all registered Canadians providing us with instructions on how to manage during the storm.
  • The Cuso office in Jamaica is also working hard to keep volunteers well informed. We’ve recieved 5 emails since Thursday, as well as individual phone calls to confirm we are prepared.
  • Useful websites for checking in on things include the National Hurricane Centre, the Jamaica Meteorological Service, and Jamaican Radio online.

Overall, I am as well prepared as one can be. I have food and water and things to do and a wonderful support system that I can count on. I will do my best to keep everyone up to date on the situation here as things transpire. Please keep Jamaica (and Haiti and Cuba) in your thoughts over the next few days!