Natural disasters in Bahamas: past and future risks
The Bahamas is a popular and still gaining popularity as a tourist destination. Every year the number of people who visit this island nation for its beaches, nature and new impressions increases. They should find out in advance what natural disasters or catastrophes they may encounter. A natural disaster always comes unexpectedly, but knowing about its potential, you can prepare for it.
Climatic features of the Bahamas
The Bahamas is a typical island nation, more similar to the coral archipelagos of Oceania than to the neighbouring islands of the Greater and Lesser Antilles.
It’s all about the fact that the islands neighbouring the Bahamas are of mainland or volcanic origin. And most of the Bahamas is coral. This explains the absence of any mountains on the Bahamas, and in general these islands are almost flat and barely rise above sea level.
The highest point of the archipelago lies only 65 metres above sea level.
However, the coral reefs here have grown on a crystalline platform, which means that the islands have a granite base. This is an ancient and seismically stable platform.
The Bahamas lie in the tropical zone of the Atlantic Ocean. The northern tropic passes directly through the islands of the archipelago. Due to this, the climate here is tropical, trade winds. There is no big difference between average temperatures in winter and summer on the islands. But these seasons differ greatly in the amount of precipitation. There is ten times less precipitation in winter than in the rainy summer.
In the latitudes where the archipelago is located, powerful cyclones often develop. They come over the coast of North America, passing through the Bahamas. The peak of the tropical hurricane season is between May and September.
Natural factors that can cause a natural disaster:
- Seismic activity. Very low, but does not preclude the possibility of an earthquake.
- Extended coastline. May be exposed to storms, cyclones, tsunamis.
- Seasonal tropical cyclones. Lead to severe storms and high rainfall, threatening destruction and flooding.
- Low location of islands relative to sea level. It can lead to gradual flooding of the archipelago as a result of rising sea levels.
The importance of studying the history of natural disasters
The history of natural disasters is important information to learn before travelling to your chosen country. Knowing the potential dangers that may be awaiting you will not only help you choose the right place, but also the time and season of the year when the threat of being in the epicentre of a natural disaster will be minimal.
For example, knowing that from May to September begins the season of tropical cyclones, constantly blowing strong winds and increasing rainfall, you can choose a different time for a trip to the Bahamas.
In this article, you will learn the chronology of natural disasters that occurred in the country in the past.
Earthquakes on the islands are extremely rare and do not have a large magnitude. All the islands of the Bahamian archipelago are based on an ancient continental plate, which ensures the seismic safety of the region.
Meanwhile, the islands neighbouring the Bahamas – Cuba and Haiti – are often affected by earthquakes. Their reverberations can be felt in the Bahamas. Although even the largest earthquake in Haiti in 2021 went unnoticed in Nassau.
Among the most recent seismic events in the region is the 4.2 magnitude earthquake that occurred on 5 June 2023 in the south of the archipelago, almost near the border with Cuba.
Scientists predict that with the development of global warming processes, the glaciers of Antarctica and Greenland will intensively melt. This will inevitably lead to an increase in the level of the world’s oceans. According to some forecasts, this rise may be up to 100 metres.
Therefore, many coastal countries may find themselves in a flood zone. This also concerns the Bahamas Islands, which barely rise above the ocean level.
Similar processes have already occurred in ancient times. A few thousand years ago, the level of the world ocean was 30 metres lower than it is now. And as a result of its rise to our days underwater were huge territories.
We see traces of this cataclysm near the Bimini Islands in the Bahamas. There, at a shallow depth, found ruins of cyclopean structures belonging to an unknown civilization. These ruins have already been nicknamed Bahamian Atlantis.
Of course, the rise in the level of the world’s oceans is a long process. But by the end of the century, many of the Bahamian islands may be underwater.
Cyclones, storms and floods
The tropical cyclone season in the central Atlantic Ocean begins in May and lasts until November. According to meteorologists, the peak of the season is in early September. The main direction of movement of Atlantic cyclones is from south-east to north-west, through the Antilles and the Bahamas to the coast of North America. Many cyclones pass directly over the Bahamas, bringing increased winds, storms and heavy precipitation. Here are some of the most destructive cyclones to hit the archipelago in recent years:
August 1995, Cyclone Erin
This cyclone reached the Bahamas on 1 August. Wind gusts reached 150 kilometres per hour. It brought large amounts of rainfall, but did not linger over the archipelago, quickly moving away towards the Florida coast. Damage in the Bahamas was assessed as minor, although almost all of them were affected to some degree by the hurricane.
November 2001, Cyclone Michelle
The main impact of this hurricane was on Cuba, and Michelle reached the Bahamas already thoroughly weakened. Wind speed in gusts reached 230 kilometres per hour. The wind fell many trees and tore off dozens of roofs. The capital of the country, Nassau, was particularly affected. 320 millimetres of precipitation fell there during the day. Floods affected almost all regions of the country.
November 2007, Hurricane Noel
This hurricane also reached the Bahamas after weakening considerably over Cuba. Nevertheless, more than 350 millimetres of rain fell in several regions, causing flooding on the islands of Abaco and Long Island. On the latter, floodwaters rose 1.5 metres. About 16,000 people were affected, and one man died after being swept away by floodwaters.
September 2016, Cyclone Matthew
The hurricane passed through the Bahamas in late October. Wind gusts reached 165 kilometres per hour. Grand Bahama Island was the hardest hit, where winds destroyed several fishing villages.
September 2019, Hurricane Dorian
This was the strongest hurricane to hit the Bahamas in recent decades. Wind speeds in gusts reached 360 kilometres per hour. The cyclone hit the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama, where it stayed for almost a day. This circumstance led to catastrophic consequences, because usually cyclones moved quickly and did not have time to cause great destruction. This time several settlements were destroyed on the islands, about 70 thousand people were left homeless. Seventy-four people were killed and another 250 were missing. The destructive wave passed over the islands, the international airport was completely flooded, Harbour Island was destroyed catastrophically. The total damage exceeded $3.4 billion.
The greatest threat to tourists holidaying in the Bahamas are tropical cyclones. They cause flooding and severe damage caused by hurricane force winds. This is the main natural disaster of the Bahamian archipelago.
The hurricane and storm season lasts all summer, and ends only by October. At this time, holidays on the islands can be dangerous.
There is no threat of volcanic eruptions on the islands. The threat of earthquakes and tsunamis is minimal.
The risk of forest fires is also minimal.
The best time to visit the Bahamas is from November to March. At this time, tropical cyclones subside, and the warm Gulf Stream does not let the waters of the Atlantic Ocean cool down much. Therefore, even in winter the bathing season continues in the Bahamas and all conditions for a comfortable holiday are preserved.