Always wise after the event

One thing life always teaches us: people are never satisfied with whatever decision you take, still less when it is not in their favor. Tell them there’s a cyclone threat and they start grumbling. Tell them there’s no cyclone warning and they start getting frustrated, especially when it’s in the morning and they have to rush for work. The private sector shouts “shear incompetence, we’ve lost millions”. They believe a class III warning was not warranted yesterday morning. That reminds me of the adage: “we are always wise after the event.”

Mauritius was under the threat of the tropical storm named Gula. The population will not forget Gula so soon. Not that it caused harm. It didn’t do any harm: no damage, no casualty, no flooding. People will remember Gula as a storm which changed characteristics in the twinkling of an eye; from a direct threat to a no-threat in less than an hour.

Workers, business people, school children and the population in general woke up yesterday morning with a class III warning in force on the island. They were all set for a day off awaiting the passage of the dreaded storm during the day. Weather was expected to deteriorate substantially. The weather services boss in a radio intervention at around 8.00 am confirmed the threat and warned the population to remain alert. 40 minutes later he issued a no-warning bulletin.

This meant getting ready for work forthwith. Everybody was taken aback, and somewhat frustrated. The roads remained jammed for long and nearly a half-day’s work was lost. The private sector was not happy at all and claimed having sustained heavy losses due to late opening of their business and the high level of absenteeism. Offices operated with reduced staffing.

Were the meteorological services wrong in their judgment? That’s the question everybody is asking, although the explanation from the weather station is simple. The tropical storm Gula has been plying in the region of St Brandon since the beginning of the week. It had intensified into a tropical cyclone on Wednesday when it was moving a general southerly direction at about 10 to 12 kilometers per hour. A class I warning was issued at 10.00 am so that the population could start preliminary precautions. At 4.00 pm with its continued southerly movement a class II was put in force which meant the threat was increasing. School children went to bed with a holiday the next day in mind. They were reassured when at 4.00 am on Thursday a class III warning was issued. This implies completion of all precautions and added alertness. No school, no work, no business.

The no-warning signal at 8.40 am created some confusion and rush among those who had to report to their work and business as is the case with the lifting of all warnings after the passage of a cyclone. Criticisms came from all quarters and voices were heard on the private radios. Some went to the extent of qualifying the local weather services as incompetent for having, according to them, wrongly assessed and handled the situation.

But the meteorological services boss explained that he had no other option at that particular time and moment when he was in presence of various satellite imageries from no less reputable weather sources like the UK Met Office, Meteo France and Hawaii all operating under the aegis of the World Meteorological Organization. There was every indication of the existence of a real threat in the early morning with marked intensification of the system. Could he take the risk of not alerting the population?

The prime objective of the meteorological services is to “save life and property”, said the meteorological services boss in the 7.30 pm TV news yesterday? He said having acted conscientiously and decided on the no-warning when it was confirmed subsequently by weather observations and other satellite pictures that Gula did no longer represent any threat to our country. It had considerably disorganized and weakened. Cyclonic winds were no longer expected around its centre with a small diameter of 30 to 40 kilometers. What else could he have done? Scientific evidences speak for themselves.

The caprices of the nature have long been subject to discussions. No two scientists can always agree on one particular course of action in a given circumstance. The person on the hot seat is the one who’s got the utmost and ultimate responsibility to ensure the accuracy of his judgment and to provide plausible explanation to the laymen that the rest of us are. How competent are we to qualify others of incompetence in a field we have no competence?

The Mauritius Meteorological Services boss has stood up to his level and assumed the overall and sole responsibility of his decisions, far from any perceived political interference, and reassured the population of his experience and professionalism in handling situations like this one. How many of us would have wished to be on his seat at that moment?

3 thoughts on “Always wise after the event

  1. I think he was right as it’s better to be safe than sorry.

    Back in 1987 (I think) our weathermen reassured the people of the UK that no storm was iminment, over night and the next day we suffered the most dreadful storm with serious casualties and the weatherman had to appologise.

  2. Well said. I remember in 1975 Gervaise was threatening us. The then Weather boss in an intent to reassure the people said the cyclone would only cause breaking of “a few branches”. The next day the cyclone hit hard devastating the country. The media headlines ran thus: “The weather boss and the broken branches”.

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