Hurricane Season Turns Theory into Startling Reality
Kathy-Ann Caesar ’92 is utilizing her meteorology education in disaster management work in the Caribbean.
Kathy-Ann Caesar ’92 has worked in meteorology in the Caribbean for nearly 25 years, but some of her most memorable experiences are now only weeks old:
“The picture of Barbuda in the eye of Irma. The rapid intensification of Maria. The prospect of what Dominica would endure,” she said.
In September, Hurricane Maria caused widespread devastation throughout the Caribbean at Category 5 strength, then pummeled Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane, leaving the entire island of 3.5 million people without power. It was the third-strongest storm ever to hit a US territory.
This only two weeks after Hurricane Irma had already brought extensive damage throughout the Caribbean — leaving the island of Barbuda completely uninhabitable — and up through the west coast of Florida, and only three weeks after Hurricane Harvey battered Texas. Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands were already in a state of emergency in the wake of these two storms when Maria then swept the area.
“With the changing climate, we are seeing a pattern of more strong storms — not more hurricanes or tropical storms overall, but stronger ones,” said Mark Noll, chair of the Department of Earth Sciences.
Before the late 1960s, Noll said, there was no storm-tracking technology. “Now, we’re able to track these things and model where we think they’re going to go days in advance, so we can tell people to prepare.”
Helping others prepare is the basis of Caesar’s career. She is the acting chief meteorologist at the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH) in Barbados. She also conducts research and lectures, both at CIMH and in the undergraduate meteorology program at the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill, Barbados.
She also is an advisory meteorologist for the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), analyzing weather systems and advising local and regional disaster managers. Together with other agencies, the CDEMA and CIMH have developed a Comprehensive Disaster Management Strategy.
“Even before these [weather] events occur, a great deal of work has been done by these agencies to help the respective countries with their preparation, reducing risk and increasing resilience,” Caesar said.
During the recent string of strong storms, this advisory work made for an extra busy start to the academic year, as Caesar juggled “reviewing the incoming data, monitoring the storms, and preparing and presenting daily briefs for CDEMA and other agencies” on top of her lecturing and administrative work. “It was exhausting,” she said.
When she began her Brockport education in 1988, Caesar already had five years of professional experience under her belt from the Trinidad and Tobago Meteorological Service, located in her home country. Her love of the field was deepened at Brockport thanks to mentors like Greg Byrd, former associate professor, who “had a passion for the science that was infectious,” and Jose Maliekal, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, who joined the faculty in Caesar’s senior year and introduced the field of tropical meteorology.
“I was exposed to the field that would envelop me,” said Caesar. “Upon my return to Trinidad, after attaining my master’s degree at Texas A&M, I had a smooth assimilation into weather forecasting and into my lecturing and research position.”
Maliekal remembers Caesar fondly, including her independent study project focused on — fittingly — the formation and intensification of hurricanes in the Caribbean, which she presented at Scholars Day.
“It is so gratifying to know that you had an impact on the successful career of a student,” said Maliekal.
The devastation caused by the recent hurricanes has made the power of Caesar’s subject matter all too clear, as she saw friends and colleagues directly impacted by the storms.
“The Meteorological Office in St. Maarten was totally destroyed,” she said.
She called the entire experience “humbling.”
“Our advisories were so important in helping the disaster agencies prepare, warn, and react,” Caesar said, “which, we are constantly reminded, saved lives.”