http://havanajournal.com/politics/entry/practicing_hurricane_diplomacy/

HavanaJournal.com: Cuba Politics

Practicing hurricane diplomacy

Posted September 14, 2004 by publisher in Cuba Politics.
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Vanessa Bauza | Sun-Sentinel

At a time when U.S.-Cuba relations are marked by heightened tensions and mutual antagonism, close continuous cooperation between Miami and Havana meteorologists is helping to track storms and save lives on both sides of the Florida Straits.

It might be a stretch to call it hurricane diplomacy. After all, no one expects friendly data-sharing to bridge four decades of diplomatic deep freeze.

Meteorologists in Miami and Havana simply say teamwork is an essential part of their jobs, from sharing radar readings to vital storm information gathered by U.S. hurricane hunters who are granted permission to fly over Cuban airspace.

“Meteorology may be the most universal of sciences because the atmosphere doesn’t recognize human frontiers,” said Jose Rubiera, head of the Forecasting Center of Cuba’s Institute of Meteorology.

“There is a fluid exchange in as far as information and data, and when we issue advisories we act in coordination,” Rubiera added. “We give our criteria and they give theirs. It’s a conversation among specialists.”

Hurricane Ivan, which was scheduled to reach western Cuba on Monday, was a perfect example of the almost seamless contact between forecasters during the hurricane season.

“We’ll probably be talking every six hours for the next day or two,” said Lixion Avila, a specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, as the deadly storm approached Cuba on Friday.

“It’s in the best interest of the United States to have their data. ... Our mission is to save lives. That has nothing to do with politics.”

Some Caribbean islands lack radar units, but Cuba has seven positioned across the island. Information from Cuba’s radar is fed to the National Hurricane Center in Miami to help supplement data from U.S. radar stations, which do not reach as far south.

“They have a very excellent radar network. During Hurricane Charley we were able to track it. They sent [the data] to us in real time,” Avila said. “It is very essential, not only for Cuba, but for any Caribbean country. The exchange of meteorological data and the opinion of the expert in the area is the meat of the hurricane plan.”

For Avila, the cooperation hits close to home. A Cuban-born meteorologist, he began his studies in Havana before leaving for Florida in the 1970s. His mother lives east of Havana.

Just as Florida uses Cuba’s radar readings, Cuba depends on information from U.S. hurricane hunters who fly into the eye of the storm.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, specialized hurricane-hunting airplanes provided by Cuba’s longtime benefactor also disappeared, and the cash-strapped island was left without the resources for its own equipment.

Though the Cuban government has loudly condemned the State Department’s use of a C-130 military plane to broadcast anti-Castro TV signals to the island, Havana has never denied a request for Hurricane Hunters from the Air Force Reserve or the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to fly over Cuban airspace, Rubiera said.

“The personnel from those planes is very respectful,” he said. “There is a good relationship between the ground personnel and the flight crew. ... It is useful for the U.S. [hurricane] center and for Cuba.”

Vanessa Bauzá can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Member Comments

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On September 14, 2004, Jesus Perez wrote:

Meteorology doesn’t recognize human frontiers. Maybe we should have these guys on both sides run our respective foreign policies.