Natural Disasters in Jamaica: Catastrophes of the Past and Risks of the Future
Jamaica is a highly sought-after tourist destination. Each year, the number of people visiting this country for its beaches, natural beauty, culture, and unique experiences continues to grow. Travelers should be aware of the potential natural disasters or catastrophes they might encounter. While natural disasters can be unpredictable, being informed about potential risks allows for better preparation.
Climatic Features of Jamaica
Jamaica is a typical Caribbean island nation, experiencing many of the same challenges and natural events as its neighboring countries.
The island of Jamaica is situated on the Caribbean lithospheric plate, which exhibits low mobility in this region. To the north of the island, there is a deep-water trough, indicating ongoing tectonic processes in the area.
The coastline of the island extends for over 1000 kilometers.
The island’s topography is diverse, with a central plateau featuring heights of up to 500 meters. In the east, there are mountains reaching elevations of up to 2000 meters. Extensive lowlands are found along the southern coast, while the northern coast is characterized by rocky terrain.
Jamaica falls entirely within the tropical monsoon climate zone, notable for its strong monsoonal influence and distinct dry and rainy seasons. The dry season in Jamaica typically begins in December and lasts until March, with minimal rainfall during this period.
Conversely, the summer months see more frequent rainfall due to the influence of tropical cyclones. The hurricane season in the western Atlantic commences in May and concludes in November, with cyclones bringing strong winds and significant rainfall.
Natural Factors that Can Cause a Natural Disaster in Jamaica:
- Seismic activity: Quite high due to the presence of deep-sea faults and the movement of lithospheric plates. Occasionally, strong earthquakes occur.
- Volcanic activity: There are no active volcanoes in Jamaica itself. The threat may be posed by strong eruptions in other countries in the region, which can lead to the formation of tsunamis or the spread of ash clouds.
- Long coastline: May be exposed to storms, cyclones, and tsunamis, especially in the southern part of the coast where there are many lowlands.
- Seasonal tropical cyclones: Lead to severe storms and heavy rainfall, causing varying degrees of destruction, flooding, and landslides each year.
- Winter droughts: May lead to the emergence of forest fires, which do not pose a significant danger.
The importance of studying the history of natural disasters
The history of natural disasters is important information to learn before traveling to your chosen country. Knowing the potential dangers that may await 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 epicenter 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 to travel to Jamaica.
In this article, you will learn the chronology of natural disasters that occurred in the country in the past.
The main cause of earthquakes, in this area of the Caribbean Sea, are mutual movements between the mainland North Atlantic plate and the oceanic Gonave microplate. In this area there is a deep-sea trough, a tectonic fault along which the competing plates move. Jamaica usually experiences two to three earthquakes per year of up to magnitude 4, but occasionally very large earthquakes occur.
June 7, 1692
Jamaica’s strongest and most destructive earthquake occurred almost 350 years ago. It occurred at noon and started with a 7.5 magnitude tremor. As a result, almost instantly, 2/3 of Kingston went underwater. About 2,000 people died, while the entire population of the then capital did not exceed 6,500. Dozens of ships were capsized in the harbor, and one of them was thrown onto the roof of a house. The earthquake triggered a tsunami wave and numerous landslides that added to the death toll.
January 14, 1907
The second-strongest earthquake on the island occurred just over 100 years ago. Its magnitude was 6.2. The first tremor destroyed the power plant, which led to numerous fires. The earthquake destroyed many houses, a tobacco factory, a tsunami wave hit the coastal areas, taking dozens of people to the sea. The total number of victims amounted to 1400 people.
In the following years, about a dozen major earthquakes with a magnitude of up to 5.5 were recorded in the area of the island, but none of them caused new destruction and human casualties. Only in 2023 there were two minor seismic events – April 15 and September 22 – which were barely felt by the islanders.
Cyclones, storms and floods
The period when the strongest cyclones form in the North Atlantic Ocean is called Hurricane Season. It begins at the end of May and lasts until November. The season peaks in the first decade of September. Several fairly strong cyclones have hit Jamaica in recent years, here is a list of the most destructive of them:
October 1963, Cyclone Flora
One of the strongest hurricanes of the last hundred years raged over the entire Caribbean Sea. Cuba and Haiti were the hardest hit, but Jamaica also suffered. In some areas of the island for the shortest time fell up to 1500 millimeters of precipitation. The strongest wind destroyed tens of thousands of houses, many residents were forced to evacuate. Still, 11 people on the island died. The damage amounted to 12 million dollars.
August 2007, Hurricane Dean
Having formed on August 13 over the central Atlantic, Hurricane Dean reached the Caribbean Sea rather quickly. Wind speed in gusts reached 280 kilometers per hour. The main damage caused by the hurricane to the islands of the Lesser Antilles, Haiti and Jamaica. In Jamaica, from the consequences of the hurricane killed 3 people, and the total damage amounted to 200 million dollars.
September 2010, Hurricane Nicole
Nicole passed west of the island, but despite this, Jamaica was hit hard. In some areas fell up to 950 millimeters of rainfall, the resort town of Negril was hit by gale force winds, easily tearing off the roofs of houses and even destroying buildings. A water tornado passed through Savannah. Cities and roads were flooded across the country. About 500,000 people were affected by the storm, lost their homes or suffered other material damage. Fourteen people were killed.
October 2012, Hurricane Sandy
This powerful cyclone originated in the Caribbean Sea, near Jamaica, and therefore, passing over the island has not yet gained full strength. Its main blow came to the U.S. coast, where thousands of people died. However, 2 deaths were recorded in Jamaica, and the damage was estimated at 100 million dollars.
Forest fires and droughts
Despite the fact that the driest time of the year in Jamaica is winter, there are also long periods without rainfall in summer. Rainfall peaks in May, August, September and October. But in June and July, rainfall is often less than normal.
In July 2014, a severe drought affected the island and led to numerous forest fires. The island’s agricultural lands were also affected – about 16 thousand small farms were on the verge of ruin. This is 72% of the total number of farms in the country. The drought continued the following year. The total damage was estimated by the country’s authorities at 8 million dollars.
But more cases of forest fires on the island are recorded in winter. As a rule, these are minor fires that do not pose a danger to tourists and locals. Often such fires are easily handled by the residents of the surrounding settlements themselves.
The most significant threats to tourists visiting Jamaica are earthquakes and cyclones. While earthquakes are more difficult to predict, cyclones regularly occur during the summer period. From May to October, Jamaica experiences a succession of cyclones, including hurricanes and heavy rains that can lead to localized floods and landslides.
Although earthquakes are a potential threat, the area has not experienced major tremors in the past half-century. While this does not eliminate the possibility of earthquakes, the risk of their occurrence is minimal.
There is no volcanic danger on the island. Active volcanoes are located only on the islands of the Lesser Antilles, which are far from Jamaica.
During the winter, Jamaica features dry and hot weather, which can sometimes lead to forest fires. However, due to the island’s relatively small size, it is easier to control and extinguish such fires here compared to other countries, and they do not pose a significant danger.
The best time to travel to Jamaica is from November to March. During this period, rainfall is rare, and the weather is consistently sunny with daytime temperatures rarely dropping below +30 degrees Celsius. The sea temperature is also very comfortable, making it an ideal time for beach vacations and various water activities.