Hurricanes and Other Disasters
Hurricanes - An Overview
Life in the Caribbean has it's advantages -- year-round warm weather, beautiful
beaches, a generally more laid-back life style -- but it also has its disadvantages. One of the potentially most
devastating is the annual arrival of the Atlantic hurricane season, which officially runs from June 1st
to November 30th, with a peak in mid-September. A report on Hurricanes in the Caribbean Sea written by Gilbert B. Clark of the National
Hurricane Center gives some interesting historical statistics on these annual visitors to the Caribbean.
- During the 88-year
period 1901 to 1988, there were 245 Atlantic tropical storms, 110 of
which can be classified as hurricanes.
- Of the 110 hurricanes,
24 developed in August, 40 in September, and 32 in October. The remaining
14 occurred in January (1), March (1), May (1), June (5), July (4),
and November (2). There have been no hurricanes in February, April,
- There were 54 tropical
storms and hurricanes during the 20-year period 1906 to 1925, 73 tropical
storms and hurricanes during 1926 to 1945, 58 tropical storms and hurricanes
during 1946 to 1965, and 40 tropical storms and hurricanes during 1966
- Using the Saffir-Simpson
scale (with Category 1 the weakest storms and Category 5 the strongest)
on average, a Category 1 storm has affected the Caribbean once every
2 years, a Category 2 storm once every 3 years, a Category 3 storm once
every 4 years, a Category 4 storm once every 5 years, and a Category
5 storm once every 17 years.
- During the 88-year
period 1901 to 1988, there were about 28,550 deaths in the Caribbean
known to have been caused by hurricanes, with many hundreds more reported
as missing. Over one-half of those deaths occurred during the 1960s
and 1970s. The cost in terms of property damage is incalculable, but
most likely in the billions of dollars over that period.
Hurricanes and the U.S. Virgin Islands
Looking a little closer to home (my home), in his book A History of the
Virgin Islands of the United States, Professor Isaac Dookhan of the University of the Virgin Islands comments briefly
on hurricanes that had an impact on the history and development of the Danish West Indies (which became the U.S.
Virgin Islands in 1917). Here are some of the highlights:
- A 1666 hurricane
devastated the Danish settlement on the island of St. Thomas.
- A July 1733 hurricane
caused considerable damage to food crops in the islands and a second
hurricane in the winter of the same year further damaged the food crops
on St. John.
- A 1772 hurricane
threw ships ashore and devastated the sugar cane and cotton fields,
and destroyed the buildings where many of the slave laborers lived.
- A 1785 hurricane
caused 2.25 million "rigsdalers" [Danish currency] worth of damage on
- An 1819 hurricane
destroyed the harbor facilities on Tortola, British Virgin Islands and
destroyed the plantations on St. Thomas. As a result, St. Thomas became
an important trading center as the island's plantation base began to
- An 1837 hurricane
caused further devastation of the remaining planations, which resulted
in the almost complete abandonment of crop production on St. Thomas.
- A November 1867
hurricane was followed by a major earthquake and tsumani, which destroyed
St. Thomas's reputation as a safe haven for shipping. The combination
of the hurricane, earthquake, and tsumani threw many small boats, sailing
ships, and steamships ashore, including two warships of the U.S. Navy.
- A pair of 1871
hurricanes, one in August and the other in October, struck St. Thomas,
destroying about 400 homes, damaging the hospital, and killing several
residents. This destruction caused further setbacks to the island's
- A 1916 hurricane
damaged the harbor facilities of the Danish West India Company on St.
- Hurricanes in 1924
and 1928, together with a worldwide depression, put the last remaining
planations on St. Thomas out of business.
My own research shows that in my lifetime (1950 to 2008) 16 hurricanes have
passed within 100 miles on my home island of St. Thomas. They were:
Hurricane Year Comments
--------- ---- ------------------------------------------------
Hilda 1955 Passed to the North of St. Thomas
Donna 1960 Passed to the North of St. Thomas
Betsy 1965 Passed to the East of St. Thomas
Eloise 1975 Passed to the North of St. Thomas
Frederic 1979 Passed directly over St. Thomas, minor damage
Chris 1988 Passed to the South of St. Thomas
Hugo 1989 Passed directly over St. Thomas, major damage
Klaus 1990 Passed to the North of St. Thomas
Luis 1995 Passed to the North of St. Thomas
Marilyn 1995 Passed directly over St. Thomas, major damage
Bertha 1996 Passed directly over St. Thomas, moderate damage
Erika 1997 Passed to the North of St. Thomas
Georges 1998 Passed just South of St. Thomas, minor damage
Jose 1999 Passed to the North of St. Thomas
Lenny 1999 Passed to the South of St. Thomas, west-to-east
Omar 2008 Passed to the South of St. Thomas, west-to-east
It's obvious from this chart that the decade of the 1990s
has seen much more hurricane activity near the U.S. Virgin Islands (and more specifically St. Thomas)
than the prior 4 decades combined. In particular, Hurricanes Hugo in September 1989 and Marilyn in September
1995 devastated the islands, including causing extensive damage to my home and the homes of several family
members. Click below for an "up close and personal" look at the effects of some of these storms.
| Hurricane Donna - 1960 > |