73.2 F
New York



Pummeled by climate change’s impacts, the British Virgin Islands stands at a crossroads. Rising temperatures, intensifying storms and flash floods increasingly jeopardize these islands’ communities and economic lifelines. The territory faces an existential crisis — and a capability gap.

For the BVI, climate change is no hypothetical menace — it’s an inescapable reality battering the territory on all fronts.

Rising ocean temperatures have made the islands a bullseye for increasingly destructive hurricanes like 2017’s Irma and Maria.

“This year the factors will be working together, because the driving factors this year are mainly the La Nina and the surface temperatures that are abnormally high,” said Meteorologist Andrew Jackson, looking at forecasts for the 2024 Atlantic Hurricane Season. “The thing about it is these oceans have been warming up for a while so the heat is not just at the surface, it goes deep. What that means is that when a hurricane or a system passes, even if it churns up the water that’s at the surface, it still has more warmth to draw from and that is a cause for concern. That’s what leads to rapid intensification.”

The BVI’s frontline battle against the climate crisis wages on shorthanded, lacking a local meteorological authority to forecast looming hazards, issue localised early warnings and fortify disaster preparedness efforts.

The consequences have been concerning. In February, May and June 2024, significant flash flooding events exposed this gap.

“The British Virgin Islands experienced torrential rains that caused severe flash floods and landslides across the islands. A great deal of our infrastructure has been impacted,” Premier Natalio Wheatley told the U.N. Special Committee on Decolonization on June 10, 2024. 

“This is the second extreme weather event we have had to endure in five weeks. In early May we also had torrential rains and flash floods that affected our infrastructure, particularly roads. These two recent events are a setback to our hurricane recovery efforts which have continued ever since Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the British Virgin Islands in 2017, causing $2.3 billion in damage,” he said. “We are very vulnerable at this time, which is just the beginning of what is forecast to be a very active Atlantic Hurricane Season.”

“This is the new reality of a warmer planet. Climate change is an existential threat to the existence of Small Island Developing States like the British Virgin Islands,” Wheatley stressed.

The public was caught off guard during each recent event with official warnings issued after major flooding had already occurred. The result was chaos, with helpless residents watching floodwaters carry away vehicles and belongings, businesses suffering significant losses, and emergency responders scrambling to assist stranded motorists — scenes that could’ve been mitigated with alerts driven by local meteorological data.

The lack of advanced weather warnings left residents feeling blindsided during the flooding.

“It caught us by surprise. I don’t know of any alerts issued beforehand about what was expected that day,” said Rayonne Victor Frett, whose vehicle was damaged after colliding with another during May’s flood. “No one spoke about the weather risks, so it was very surprising. Going forward, I want that information out there and in people’s faces so we can respond effectively.”