“June too soon. July stand by.
August come it must,
October all over.”
If you grew up in Jamaica, then chances are that you learnt this memory gem while growing up. It was a common reminder of the hurricane season that was an ever present threat but also a secret thrill among those of us too young to understand the consequences of what a hurricane meant.
When Is Hurricane Season in Jamaica?
In the Atlantic, the period from the 1st of June to the 30th of November is recognized as the Hurricane Season annually. The Hurricane season each year usually sees the development of tropical storms and hurricanes that make their way to the Gulf of Mexico where they fizzle out and die.
In the Caribbean region, including Jamaica, hurricanes are particularly feared because of the death and destruction that they can bring. With strong winds exceeding 100 km per hour, the possibility of landslides and flood waters that seem to come from nowhere, a hurricane can be disastrous for infrastructure, plant life and livestock on the island.
The Caribbean unfortunately falls into the region that is most affected by tropical storms and hurricanes. Luckily, Jamaica does not fall into the path of the tropical disaster very often.
History of Hurricanes in Jamaica
The first named hurricane that hit Jamaica was Hurricane Charlie in the year 1951. The island was unprepared and the effects were devastating. Hurricane Charlie left 154 people dead and more than 20,000 people homeless; it also caused more than sixteen million British pounds in damage.
Following Hurricane Charlie, the island was hit by a succession of less intense storms including:
- Hurricane Hazel in 1954
- Hurricane Flora in 1963
- Hurricane Carmen in 1974
- Hurricane Allen in 1980
- Hurricane Katrina in 1981
None of these, however, caused the damage that Hurricane Gilbert did in 1988. Hurricane Gilbert was the first tropical storm to hit Jamaica directly in over 37 years, and it is the storm that most elderly Jamaicans will tell you about when questioned about the Hurricane season in Jamaica.
Gilbert was unofficially dubbed the “storm of storms”, and it brought with it record amounts of rain, which led to flooding in many low lying areas. The strong winds that hit the island destroyed thousands of homes and left many dead.
Memories of that day in September 1988 remain poignant and old folks will tell you that Jamaica has not seen a ‘proper’ hurricane since Gilbert.
Hurricane Activity in Jamaica Today
The island has come a long way since Hurricane Gilbert in 88’. Though we’ve had a series of storms, none has had the intensity of Gilbert. The island’s infrastructure has seen great improvement and we are better prepared to withstand the gale winds of hurricanes.
Jamaica’s hurricane seasons in the past twenty years have been relatively calm. Though there have been many tropical storms and hurricanes developing in the region, only a few have come close to the island and none of great intensity has directly crossed our path. For this the citizens remain extremely grateful.
In the last ten years Jamaica has seen the following major hurricane systems:
- Hurricane Ivan in 2004
- Hurricane Charley also in 2004
- Hurricane Dean in 2007
- Hurricane Gustav in 2008
These systems were generally mild or did not hit the island directly. There was thus no extensive damage reported and few if any fatalities.
Preparing for the Hurricane Season in Jamaica When Travelling
During the hurricane season, life in the island goes on as usual. Tourists flock to Jamaica with seemingly little concern for hurricanes and storms. Most Jamaicans in fact, do not take any extra precautions for possible hurricanes when the season begins. It is only when an advisory or hurricane watch is issued that citizens scramble to secure their homes and to get supplies in place.
When a hurricane warning is issued (this means the hurricane will make landfall in approximately 24 hours), residents take precautions such as placing boards over glass windows and doors, cutting off overhanging tree branches and repairing/securing damaged roofs of houses. There seems to be almost an air of festivity as neighbors and friends help each other to prepare.
For individuals who are living in areas that are prone to flooding or is otherwise unsuited for living during a hurricane, the “Office of Disaster, Preparedness and Emergency Management” (ODPEM) provides safe houses or shelters during the hurricane. For visitors staying in hotels or guest houses, these facilities usually have their own safe areas. For those tourists who wish to leave the island, emergency flights are usually available.
After A Hurricane
Once a hurricane has passed, clean up activities and assessment of the damages caused will be done. Depending on the extent of the damage, things begin to go back to normal in a few days. Electricity which is usually turned off during the storm, generally returns in a day or two. Food shortages are a possibility but life usually continues as normal soon thereafter.