J24.2 Contributions of Women in the English-Speaking Caribbean to Tropical Meteorology Operations, Education, Research, and Applications

Tuesday, 14 January 2020: 1:45 PM
205B (Boston Convention and Exhibition Center)
Arlene G. Laing, Caribbean Meteorological Organization, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago; and K. A. Caesar, A. Sealy, R. Mahon, and T. S. Stephenson

While the trailblazing contributions of Dr Joanne Simpson to tropical meteorology, in general, and the Caribbean, in particular is well-known, the legacy of women in the Caribbean is not as recognized. In this presentation, we highlight the work of female practitioners, both past and present, to tropical meteorology operations, education, research and applications in the English-speaking Caribbean.

The contribution of women to formal operational meteorology in the English-speaking Caribbean can be traced to Mrs. Doreen Sutherland of Saint Lucia, one of the very first women working in meteorology in the Caribbean, long before the modern era of national meteorological services. She operated the US Weather Bureau Station in Saint Lucia from the early 1940s to her retirement in 1981. Along with her husband, she established a network of rainfall stations on the island on farms and at schools, then set up the island’s first hurricane warning system with the Government of Saint Lucia. Shortly after her husband’s death in 1967, Doreen Sutherland began advising the Government towards the establishment of the Saint Lucia Meteorological Service, which started operations in 1968.

Since those early years, the roles of women in the field of meteorology and related sciences in the Caribbean has not only grown in volume but also in stature. Ten years ago, at least one regional service had no technical female staff, but today, there are at least two female forecasters in every service. Women have risen to become Directors of National Meteorological and Hydrometeorological Services in four English-speaking Caribbean countries—Mrs Sylvia McGill of the Meteorological Service of Jamaica, Ms Bhaleka Seulall of the Hydrometeorological Service of Guyana, Ms Catherine Cumberbatch of the National Meteorological Service of Belize, and Ms Sonia Nurse of the Barbados Meteorological Service. Furthermore, a female has risen to a top leadership role in the region, with Dr Arlene Laing becoming the first female Coordinating Director of the Caribbean Meteorological Organization (CMO) Headquarters Unit and an elected Member of the WMO Executive Council in 2018.

In the education and training arena, Mrs Margaret Pestaina-Jeffers became the first female Chief Meteorologist at the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH), focusing on training and education in radar meteorology. Her mantle has been taken up by Ms Kathy-Ann Caesar, who is a recognized global leader in aviation and satellite meteorology education and training, among other achievements. The peer-reviewed "Introduction to Tropical Meteorology" online textbook authored by Dr Arlene Laing, a Jamaican native, and Dr Jenni Evans has advanced education and training in tropical meteorology across the globe. Dr Laing also co-authored and served on the editorial committee of the award-winning, "Meteorology of Tropical West Africa: The Forecasters' Handbook".

Several outstanding contributions to tropical meteorology research have been made by Caribbean women in regional institutions and elsewhere in the world. For example, Dr Tannecia Stephenson, the first female Head of the Department of Physics of The University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona has provided information on Caribbean climate variability and climate change that helps to guide policy on climate adaptation. Other women from the UWI Climate Studies Group Mona have won international accolades for their research, such as Felicia Whyte, for research on the Caribbean Low-level Jet; Jhordanne Jones, for tropical cyclone variability and climate; Dr Kimberly Stephenson, for Caribbean climate change and its impacts on biodiversity. Dr Laing received awards for her research on the characteristics and environment of the global population of mesoscale convective complexes. Additionally, Dr Andrea Sealy of the CIMH, is leading research on sand and dust impacts in the Caribbean and is the Chair of the WMO Sand and Dust Storms Warning Advisory and Assessment System (SDS-WAS) Pan-American Regional Steering Group. With the recognition of the critical role of social and behavioral sciences in translating meteorological information into better decision-making, Dr Roché Mahon of the CIMH is building a body of research and applications to climate-sensitive sectors such as disaster risk management, agriculture and food security, health, water resources, tourism, and energy. Caribbean women also contribute from external institutions, such as Dr Holly Hamilton of the Pennsylvania State University, whose research has focused on African easterly waves and convection.

The Caribbean is one of the most hazard-prone regions of the world and vulnerable to weather and climate extremes, thus serving as a natural laboratory for tropical meteorology and related research. Furthermore, regional governments have resolved to make the Caribbean climate-resilient; a goal that is tied not only to the quality of weather, climate, and water information but to the effective application of that information. Success in these endeavors will require collaboration, communication, and creativity, which are characteristic strengths of female leaders. Therefore, the Caribbean region endeavors to attract and retain bright students of all genders to a field of study that has far-reaching consequences.

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