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A year in the life (part 2) Hurricanes

Hello, again:

If there is one major downside to growing coffee, in a tropical paradise: it is hurricanes...

hurricanesAs I am adding this lead-in bit: the first of the seasons storms, is rapidly approaching (10.30 pm, Sunday September 12th) as yet it has not been given a name, which says that, as of the last weather update I can get hold of, it has not yet achieved "tropical storm" status, and remains just a tropical depression, with wind speeds below 39 mph. BUT, as a precaution, in case it develops over the next 24 hours, I have completed "stage 1" of my storm precautions: which is to get everything that could be damaged by the winds, either moved (all my pot plants) or "battened down" (garden furniture, etc.) expecting a lot of rain (predictions are for up to 6 inches, in the next 18 hours) but not a lot of wind.

If you have NOT experienced a full blown hurricane, you really don't know (or WANT to know, first hand) what it is like!

Up here, it not so much being hit by a hurricane, it is, at 3,500 feet, more like being "inside" one: being able to look down on some of the lower rain clouds, and occasionally see the lightening, down the valley, from above.

At least, my place is safe from flood waters. At 3,500 feet, we are on the top of a ridge, with some 500 foot high, steep slopes down to the rivers on either side of the ridge; flooding, not a concern!! We are located exactly atop the Blue Mountain, watershed: a (very long!!) stones throw from the two rivers, flowing in opposite directions, from either side of the ridge, the plantation is on.

We have the coffee planted on one side of the ridge, facing North West, so when we do get a hurricane, we are protected in all directions, except the NW.

As we approach August, and the first "serious" storms of this season, are starting to form over the far side of the Atlantic; we are 7 to 10 days away, from knowing where they will go, or what they will develop, into!! The time of year, that we start to keep a very serious "eye" on the weather!

It is NOT something I would ever wish on anyone: WE, Jamaicans, rejoice when the hurricane "goes away" and devastates someone else (Cuba, Florida, Bermuda, etc) But, the "good" feelings about our own little selfish considerations, bring (some of) us into that sorrow for those who are hit by the hurricane! Cannot even imagine what it must have been like in Cuba, last year: 3 direct hits, by 3 full blown hurricanes, in only a few weeks!!

AND:- after that earthquake, in Haiti, seriously hope, and pray, that they are spared: even a sub-hurricane strength tropical storm, would just destroy the tent-cities, that most of the population, are still living in.

jamaican hurricanesI am sure that there cannot be any reader of these ramblings, who has not seen, on TV, the after effects of hurricane Katrina: and the damage done around the New Orleans area: try and imagine the same level of damage, to a small, poor, Island. We got a (barely) cat 1, Cuba got far, far worse, 3 times over!! AND, even from that "minor" hurricane: we got, last year, 18 months on; and the road repairs are STILL, underway!!

In most cases it is NOT the winds that do the real damage, it is the severity of the rains! The water is the main problem, of the last 2 hurricanes, Dean was a relatively "dry" hurricane, it was a lot stronger than Gustav, but Gustav was a LOT wetter, and did far more damage to this Island: (using a large bucket as a rain gauge) 16 inches of rain in 36 hours, at least, as I did not see when my "rain gauge", overflowed! Try and imagine what 2 or 3 feet of rain looks like, and it falls in only 2 or 3 days:

The "perfect hurricane", turns north, avoiding all the Islands in our area, skirts, well out to sea, and ends up hitting Europe, as nothing more than an "average" few rainy/windy days; perfectly normal summer weather, to an ex-patriot, Englishman!!

Way up here in the mountains, we are very isolated, and have to take far more precautions, than in the towns and cities, the roads could be impassable, for weeks!! Power out for 6 to 8 weeks (we are the very end of a power "spur" line, and in the last few % of "priority" repairs) phones (only mobile phones up here) out for several days.

Water is no problem, as we collect all our drinking water from one of a couple of local springs (filtered through a couple of thousand feet of Limestone), and what "sweet" water it is, makes far better coffee than the treated (Chlorinated) water in town!! Here is a suggestion for you, experiment with different "waters", and you may find that you get a much better cup of coffee!!!

Our "non drinking" water, is collected from the roof of the house, into a big underground tank; not for "drinking", unless filtered and treated!! At full capacity, we would have some 25 cubic metres, of water, add the rains through out the year: more than plenty!!! Except in a long drought: and we are forced into maximum "water saving" mode, just means dish washing once a week, and recycle all the used water to the garden plants, etc.

hurricanes in jamaicaAs the Hurricane season approaches, start stocking up with tinned, and "dry" foods: fuel for the generator, candles and kerosene for lights, making sure that we have sufficient food for at least 4 weeks (myself, and 3 dogs), stock up on beer and cigs, and all the other essentials. Check the on-line weather reports, twice daily, looking for that Atlantic system which could develop, and come our way!!

Jamaicans will never believe that the approaching hurricane, will actually "hit" the Island, until the first blasts of wind and rain, actually appear: relying on Church loads of people praying their Butts off, to divert it: and when their faith/prayers are not "strong enough", they join the rest of the locals, and revert to the last moment panic!!!

The shop keepers just LOVE it, prices doubling or trebling, in a few hours: the shelf fillers in the supermarkets suffering severe injury to their "trigger finger" on the pricing guns!!!

One of the storms starts to look ominous, and heading this way: an emergency shopping trip, which has to be done 2 or 3 days before the last minute, panic buying, strips every shop in Kingston, of almost everything!!

As the first of the winds and rains, actually arrive: all the supermarkets, and shops, are stripped of anything, and everything, except; electric light bulbs!! you just cannot, find to buy, plywood boards (to protect your windows) any Kerosene, batteries, candles, or other form of lighting, it is just Total Panic, buying!!! With an expectation of some 10 to 20 inches of rain, the shelves are stripped of all "water based" drinks, when all that is needed is a bottle of bleach, to purify the rain water, and a bottle of fruit syrup, to flavour it with.

All shopping done (and the extra supplies, topped up), weather reports getting more "ominous": and do what is possible to get all the pot plants under cover, (always have a few pots with cuttings from the mature garden plants, in case they are destroyed), and put up the window boards (they were all carefully cut to shape to fit the windows and doors, 3 years ago) to protect the house: and we are as ready as we can be.

Just one of the French widow doors open, awaiting the last moment. Every bucket, and other water container, loads of towels, tarpaulins, sealing tape, and mops: ready.

auto crash hurricaneAll the dogs were, as puppies, house trained, with newspaper: and I put a whole load down for them to use, and whilst there are some "misses", the paper gets the majority!

The rains start, as we get the first outer fringes of the storm, the winds build up, slowly, and we seal the house: plunging a light, open living area, into something more akin to a "cave": the power goes out, as the power company cuts the supply to the whole Island; light up the candles and kerosene lamps: this is where it starts to get "unpleasant", smoky lighting, and in a troglodyte, cave-man environment, with no airflow. Not at all pleasant, when you get used to all the fresh mountain air, constantly flowing through the house.

Forced to revert (without any power or TV) to the battery powered radio, and out with all the crossword puzzles, saved from the newspapers, to try and keep the mind, occupied, and away from speculating on every unusual "noise", being a major bit of the house, being blown away: wandering around the house, mopping up the water, putting sealing tape over any water leaks, and checking that everything (especially the dogs) are OK. It is almost impossible to sleep through a storm like this, the stress levels are very high, and the noise alone, makes it impossible!!

During Dean, (2007) when the centre of the storm passed us by, and the direction of the wind, shifted 180 degrees, the Guava tree behind the house, was then directly in the winds: it was like being in a tank, with a small calibre, machine gun firing at you: as the fruits (the unripe ones, they are about an inch in diameter, but have a "hard" skin) got blown off the tree, and straight into the backwall and roof, of the house, at high speed!! No damage done, but the noise was incredible!!!

The grapefruits, oranges and tangerines, made a sort of "wet thunk", as they hit the house. Not sure what Limes, Lemons, or Bananas, would sound like, as those trees are not lined up, to hit the house!

A severe loss of most the fruit on the plantation!!

The wind is not continuous, there is a massive, house shaking blast, followed by a few seconds of no wind at all: well not actually NO wind, but little more than a healthy but variable (in both direction and intensity) breeze, but the real heavy "blasts" can do incredible damage: blasting a rain drop through the leaf of a plant: exactly as you would expect if you fired a shotgun, close range, at the leaves of the tree!!

To date, have not been through the "eye" of a hurricane: and whilst it might be very interesting, have NO wish to get anywhere near, that part of a hurricane!!!

Jamaican hurricaneUp here, with mountains on two sides, and a very long valley, in the other two quadrants; the winds are very variable.Our house being in the middle of this long valley, and the mountains protect us from some of the winds, but on the converse side, also funnel them along the valleys, and somewhat, amplify them.

2007: Hurricane Dean (cat 2, eye missed us by 60 miles) 130mph winds: (guess we got wind blasts, in the 100/110 mph range) and the aftermath, just one coffee bush, with a single broken twig! Had to seriously cut back (a really magnificent, and hated to do it) Mango tree, which potentially could have fallen, and damaged the house. It took out all the Bananas, and over 90% of the Citrus, but hardly touched the coffee!

2008: hurricane Gustav (borderline as to being an official; hurricane) max 75mph winds: took out some 10% of my coffee bushes, and 90% of the developing coffee beans!! Leaving me with less coffee, than I drink myself, over the year!! Did a little damage to the house, took an hour, and a few nails, to repair! Like Dean, destroyed almost all the Banana, and Citrus crop.

2009: instead of a hurricane, not even a minor little storm, we had the worst drought, in at least, 15 years.

2010: - What are we going to get THIS year??

What are the most memorable things:- Hurricane Dean, the house literally, shuddering every few seconds with blasts of wind: well dark (this was about 2.00am) one of the dogs spots a rat in the house, sheltering from the "weather", and we are off on a rat hunt! by candle light!! (not an easy way to hunt a Rat!!)

You have to use your imagination here: nothing but candle light, dogs well worked up, house shuddering with every blast from the winds, (I have a machete, they have "teeth"!) and we chased this rat around the house for about 30 minutes, before they got it. They are excellent "ratters", but I have to knock the rat off the furniture, and flush it out from under the furniture, as they can only get it, when it is on the open floor!! A MOST memorable "rat hunt"! I get the corpse (and dispose of it) the dogs get a lump of cheese, for it!! Who "got" it does not matter, the "rat hunt" is a totally joint (pack) effort: SO WE ALL join in the rewards, equally!!

The rats up here are nothing like "town" rats: they are "wood" rats (locally known as "bush" rats) smaller than "town" rats (Black, or Brown Rats) and silver grey in colour: they live, and "nest" in the trees, and their favourite food (the bait I use in the traps) is an almost over-ripe Banana; the dogs have caught, 49 (that I know of) in the last 4 years. Any rat that gets caught in the traps, is given a "sporting chance", released from the trap, a couple of yards in front of the dog pack; to date, none have escaped!!

hurricane on jamaica islandListening to the radio, and from the projections, and calculations from the earlier on-line weather centres: we can start to know when the lessening winds, really are the hurricane moving away: the rains continue, unabated, but the winds start to slacken: on with the rain coat, to make a quick check of the place, and later on, when the umbrella will "work" in the winds, a better check. Remove some of the window boards, and open the doors/windows; and get some fresh air into the house! What a relief!!!

Fire up the generator, as soon as possible, and get the freezer, working again!! takes about 8 hours per day to keep the freezer, frozen: as long as you, heavily, insulate the thermostat (set at maximum cold) phones will be out for days, but the local TV channels, (by indoor aerial) are back on. As long as the satellite dish has not been damaged, or blown out of alignment, we can get "foreign" TV news, as well.

This is the worst part of the "aftermath", the lack of all the "taken for granted" communications!! No phones, which means no internet connection, NO way of getting a message "out" to my Mum, or friends, to let them know we have "survived" the hurricane: incoming info, limited to TV and Radio, as long as they are transmitting!

Running on the generator, we have light and power, for about 8 hours a day, for about 2 weeks: computer running, so I can type my "reports" of the hurricane, but have several days waiting time, before the phone connection, is repaired!! the locals walk over, to us isolated places, check that all is OK, and pass around all the news, of road blockages, etc: and other news of the "aftermath". In the past, have had as many as 8 of their mobile phones, charging up, from my generator: having the only one in the area.

What is even worse, I have the only first aid kit, for over 7 miles, in any direction!!! It is freely available to anyone with a, minor, injury that I can help with: basic cleaning of the wound, bandaging, or using "super glue" instead of stitches: and a tot of the local "looney juice" rum, I would ONLY use it "externally", but they prefer the effects, internally!

hurricane againThe local white Rum, really is "looney juice", 66% APV, smells like industrial alcohol, have never tasted it, the smell alone puts me right off; and I have far more respect for both my stomach, and my few remaining brain cells, than to dose them with it!! At the other extreme of the local Rum market, is some incredibly smooth, rich and full flavoured, vintage Rum: which is excellent! Also available are various "home distilled" hooch rums, have never seen any, but as close to pure alcohol as you can get, totally illegal of course, but the locals seem to know where to get the odd bottle.

I have a very high ground clearance, 4 wheel drive car: and as soon as the roads are "passable" rather than "open", off to Kingston, or Buff Bay, and restock, not only my own, and the dogs, feed, but re-supply the local village shop, with all the essentials (that their "normal") car cannot get!!

Takes less than 48 hours, and they have all the roads open to foot traffic, so Chris can get to work, up here, on his bicycle, and assess the damage to the plantation, and help me do any immediate repairs to the house and garden. May take a lot longer to get the roads open to cars!!

First job, a walk around the plantation, and assess the damage: usually it is the banana trees that take the worst of the "beating", they have weak stems, and are easily blown over: but they are amazing plants: the winds take out the main stem, but the "root base", has 3 or 4 new "suckers", already growing: and ready to "take over" and grow: each banana "sucker", grows, and produces just a single head of bananas, it then dies, and the next one takes over, and in about 9 to 10 months, produces another head of fruit: down in the hotter areas of the coast: takes only about 6 months, to produce the fruit.

Over the last 50 odd years, Jamaica gets a hit from a hurricane, about once every 7 years: things have changed, and in the last 6 years that I have been here: we have been hit with 3 hurricanes: and few people are factoring that, into their "thinking"!!! That hurricanes are getting both bigger, and more frequent!!

I am forgetting that this a web site for coffee lovers!! So back to coffee, and how a hurricane affects it!!

It mashes the coffee up!!

city after hurricaneCoffee is a relatively shallow rooted bush, with a central root, only 2 to 3 feet long (I have pulled out a dead one, and measured it!!) and is prone to toppling over, in a hurricane, but if you can get to them quickly, most can be "saved", but will take about 2 years to recover, and produce a good crop. A lesser storm will snap off the bearing branches, or just take all the leaves and coffee berries, off the bush. A really BAD hurricane, will literally lift them out of the ground, and blow them away!! or just leave you with a snapped off stump, in the ground.

After Gustav, 3 coffee bushes, almost touching each other, and facing, equally, into the wind: one totally, untouched, one stripped of every leaf, and berry, it struggled, and took 2 years to die, and the third one: totally ripped to pieces, and did not recover.

A bit of ancient history: in 1988: hurricane Gilbert, a small, but very intense, hurricane, a direct hit, on the JBM coffee growing area: destroyed my plantation, along with virtually all the coffee growing acres, I can see from here. So bad, that it came close to destroying the whole of the JBM coffee, industry!

Before Gilbert, my 4 acre plantation was a viable coffee growing "business": it was destroyed, almost totally: and no one bothered to replant it: a small area (less than a quarter acre) was replanted (directly in front of the house, and the only part easily visible from the house) and when I got here, we counted 400 coffee bushes on the place (for the acreage, should be around 3,500) and, of those, only about 60 were producing: a few young bushes, and the rest well "over-grown" and in need of cutting back, or replacement!! We are in the process of full refurbishment, and replanting!!

Coffee is a long term crop, from seed to mature bush, 5 to 7 years: and a major investment, in time and money, before a profit can be made! A coffee bush, has a (fully productive) life of about 25/30 years before it needs replacing: so on a fully mature plantation, there will always be about 10% of the coffee, out of full production, due to the necessity of replacing the bushes. I find info on various web sites, that a coffee bush is productive for up to 80 years: that may be true in Iceland, but NOT here!!

sea in angerOctober and November, and the weather pattern starts to change: the first of the cold fronts coming down from the States; this usually (but not always!!) heralds the end of the hurricane threat, for the year!

Today's recipe:

One of the great flavours of Jamaica, is Jerk, a spicy mixture of flavours, in which the meat is marinated, before being slow roasted over a smokey (barbeque) fire of pimento wood. If you cannot obtain the real Jamaican jerk spice mixture, or a pimento wood, barbeque: try this as a substitute:-

You need a couple of thick pork chops (chicken and fish are sometimes used, but the pork is so much better at taking up the full flavour of the spices) and rub both side, hard, with a mixture of:- Pimento (all-spice) Paprika, ground ginger, a little mustard powder, a small finely crushed, (hot) dried chilli pepper, and a little sugar and salt.

Leave for a few hours, and rub with a little cooking oil, before sprinkling with very finely chopped onion, garlic, and celery, on to a wire tray, in a roasting dish, and very slowly roast them in the oven; basting occasionally with a little fat or oil, to stop them drying out.

Jerk pork is usually served with "Festival" (deep fried bread rolls) a good substitute is fried dumplings make a thinish batter with flour and water, with a little salt and pepper, and spoon each dumpling-to-be into a shallow pan of hot oil: (if you can get it: Virgin coconut oil makes the best flavoured ones!).

Jamaican Jerk pork, is far and away the best thing I have found, to prepare the palate for a really hot cup of JBM coffee, which must be supped as soon as possible after finishing the meal: the combination of the hot coffee, and its special characteristics, with the slight "after-burn" from the hot peppers in the mouth, is just perfect, a real "Zing" (best I can describe it) on the whole mouth.

Robin Plough, friend of

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See also:
A New Year on the Plantation
A Visit to Paradise
A year in the life..What makes JBM, the 'legend' of coffee?
Assessing your coffee (part 1)
Assessing your coffee (part 2)
Assessing your coffee (part 3)
Economics of JBM. Part 1
Economics of JBM. Part 2
Everything you wanted to know about the Coffee Board
Growing a coffee plant at home
Growing Coffee. Part 1
Growing Coffee. Part 2
Growing Coffee. Part 3
Growing Coffee. Part 4
Growing Coffee. Part 5
Growing: Part 1
Growing: Part 2
Jamaican food (part 1)
Jamaican food (part 2)
Jamaican food (part 3)
Jamaican newsletter
Living in Paradise: Part I
Living in Paradise: Part II
Living in Paradise: Part III
Processing our coffee (part 1)
Processing our coffee (part 2)
Random thoughts on the end of the world
Random thoughts on the end of the world (II)
Special Report: Coffee Leaf Rust Fungus Part 1
Special Report: Coffee Leaf Rust Fungus Part 2
SPECIAL: Coffee borer beetle in Hawaii
Trivia and other ramblings: part 1
Trivia and other ramblings: part 2
Tropical Storm Nichole
see also

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