As an archipelago in the tropical Atlantic, the Turks and Caicos Islands are at risk of being hit by a hurricane or tropical cyclone during the July to October Atlantic Hurricane Season.
Obviously, a hurricane can put a serious damper on your visit to the Turks and Caicos. Generally, the summer hurricane season months experiences beautiful (yet hot!) weather, however, although unlikely, the risk of a storm hit does exist.
Our advice on whether to plan your vacation during the hurricane season hinges on the flexibility of your schedule.
There’s typically about a week’s warning of a possible storm hit. If you purchase an airline fare with waived ticket change fees or travel insurance that includes cancel for any reason (CFAR) coverage, and if your personal schedule allows for a possible vacation date change, chances are that you’ll have a great stay.
If a storm hit is imminent, airlines will often provide additional flights out of the country before the expected storm.
The local accommodations are usually amenable to rescheduling or refunding if a hurricane or tropical storm threatens the country, however, inquire on the policies before booking.
Partially due to the potential storms, tourism in the Turks and Caicos tends to slow down at the late summer and autumn months. A few resorts and restaurants will close during this period, however the businesses that remain open will typically offer the lowest rates of the year at this time.
Hurricanes wreak havoc through several factors, and simple high winds actually are typically not the most destructive element of the storm.
Although not a problem in the Turk and Caicos, in more mountainous regions, landslides, caused by heavy rains, account for the majority of tropical cyclones deaths. Likewise, in areas prone to storm surge, widespread flooding is the primary source of devastation.
Storm surges can have a tremendous impact on the Turks and Caicos.
Approximately half of the Turks and Caicos consists of low elevation wetlands and saline flats, and significant amounts of the remaining land in the country is of very low elevation. In addition, almost every historical settlement in the Turks and Caicos is located near the ocean.
The storm tide (the combination of a storm surge and typical tide) in a major hurricane can reach heights of over twenty feet (6 meters), however, geography can greatly affect the surge height.
Storm surges are mainly created by wind, and not so much the reduction in atmospheric pressure as is occasionally stated. Because of this regions surrounded by gently sloping and gradually decreasing ocean floor, such as the south eastern United States, tend to experience a far higher surge than seen at some of the Caribbean islands.
Fortunately for us, the Turks and Caicos Islands are situated on an underwater plateau, and much of this plateau exhibits abrupt transitions between the Atlantic ocean floor at around 11,000 (3.3 km) feet in depth, and the shallow 30-60 foot depths (9-18 meter) water on the plateau. Such terrain is not conducive to the extreme storm surges occasionally seen in other countries.
Roads in regions including Leeward, Five Cays, Turtle Tail and the southwestern end of Providenciales, and much of the primary “town” areas on Grand Turk and South Caicos become submerged during almost any hurricane.
The Turks and Caicos experiences very little annual rainfall, and unfortunately much of this occurs over only a few distinct tropical cyclones. Natural underground water lenses are replenished to a degree by such deluges, however the ground become oversaturated with water and much is lost due to drainage to the ocean.
An unpleasant by product of rainwater flooding is outbreaks in the local mosquito populations. 10-12 days after heavy rains, as if by clockwork, mosquitoes emerge. They tend to persist for a little more than a month unless strong breezes drive them away, or rainfall continues.
Our different islands tend to see varying amounts of mosquitoes. Salt Cay, Grand Turk and to a slightly less degree, Providenciales, tend to see far less of the pests than North and Middle Caicos, East Caicos, Parrot Cay and Pine Cay.
As to be expected, a major storm can cause extended damage to utilities, especially when power and communication lines are hung on wood utility poles, which is largely the case throughout the Turks and Caicos.
Providenciales has fared quite well over the last decade, with only relatively limited power outages. The island’s electricity provider, Fortis TCI, has performed an excellent job in maintaining and restoring power during and after storms.
The smaller islands in the country tend not to fare as well. The problems are not simply constrained to electricity. The potable water supply on Salt Cay, South Caicos and Grand Turk is produced by reverse osmosis, and both damage to the filter systems and lack of power prohibits production of fresh water. Salt Cay in particular experienced such shortages for quite some time after the widespread destruction of Hurricane Ike in 2008.
Good condition wood utilites poles, when set in the typical limestone bedding common to the Turks and Caicos, are quite resistant to storms. However, as seen in the case of Blue Hills and the 2008 Hurricane Hanna, aged poles in sandy ground do not hold well.
Landscaping and trees will of course see quite a bit of damage. The average soil depth in the islands is quite shallow, with an underlying limestone bedding. Many local trees, although not particularly tall in general, will often simply fall over.
An interesting effect is salt-burned vegetation. After a hurricane or large tropical storm, the side of the islands that bore the brunt of the storm will often exhibit greenery loss due to wind ocean spray. For hundreds of feet inland, leaves will become shades of browns and reds, not unlike the autumn colours seen in temperate zones. It can take months for the trees and plants to recover and regrow the foliage.
Sand erosion and movement also take place. Although only reaching tropical storm level winds on Providenciales and West Caicos, the recent 2015 Hurricane Joaquin eroded much of Malcolm's Road Beach, much of the sand from which ended up along the Northwest Point coast. One of the better-remembered instances of sand movement occurred during the major category 4 Hurricane Donna, which opened Donna Cut, a channel that once existed at Half Moon Bay between Little Water Cay (Iguana Island) and Water Cay. This waterway gradually filled back in, completely closing off in 1999.
Statistic show that September is the most likely month of the year in the Turks and Caicos for hurricane landfall.
Fortunately, the Turks and Caicos was spared any damage from the October 2016 Hurricane Matthew. Average wind speeds did not exceed 40mph (65 kph), and experienced rainfall was quite light.
This hurricane only reached tropical storm intensity in the Turks and Caicos and caused very little actual destruction to property. The largely-undeveloped west coast of Providenciales, including the scenic Frenchman’s Creek Nature Reserve, Malcolm's Road Beach, and Northwest Point Marine National Park, saw quite a bit of wave and storm surge damage, more so in fact than any other recent storm brought about.
Close on the heels of Hurricane Hanna, this category 4 storm was the worst experienced in the country since Hurricane Donna in 1960. Salt Cay and Grand Turk saw far more extensive destruction than what took place in the Caicos Islands. The majority of residences on Salt Cay were either heavily damaged or destroyed.
This storm’s path made a loop and passed twice quite close to Providenciales. With some help from Hurricane Ike, which passed only days later, Hurricane Hanna largely destroyed the newly-constructed North and Middle Caicos Causeway.
Hurricane Frances brought heavy rainfall, yet fortunately little more than landscaping damage.
Striking on the 18th of November, 1985, Hurricane Kate’s path travelled directly through the Turks and Caicos.
Although only barely reaching category one status in the Turks and Caicos, this storm brought significant rainfall and flooding, sunk several boats, and damaged buildings.
One of the most powerful hurricanes to strike the Turks and Caicos in centuries, this coast-changing storm caused widespread destruction, yet amazing did not take any lives.
A significant storm surge, likely one of the highest seen in centuries, isolated many communities in the country for weeks.
Largely due to the storm surge and tremendous water movement, new channels were opened at quite a few locations, including at Bottle Creek and at Half Moon Bay between Little Water Cay and Water Cay. Many of the southern limestone coastlines saw the movement and piling of huge boulders.
This terrible hurricane landed in the Turks and Caicos as a category 4 storm with sustained winds of up to 155 mile per hour, previously having hit Puerto Rico as a Category 5 storm. One of the lowest barometric pressures recorded in the mainland United States was taken after this expansive storm made landfall in Florida.
Several ships were lost in the Turks and Caicos during this hurricane.
An indicator of increasing technology and the changing times, the United States Weather Bureau at Washington D.C. sent a warning of the approaching tempest.
Two major storms passed within months of each other, one on the 24th of July and another on the 16th of September. Both storm reached category 4 and caused extensive damage to nation’s salt industry, plantations and vessels.
Striking on the 30th of September, this tremendous hurricane is probably the most-destructive recorded to have hit the Turks and Caicos. About three quarters of the country’s population was left homeless and with no possessions, and the economic impact lasted for decades. At least 50 lives were lost in the country.
The Great Nassau Hurricane hit with little warning, yet it did so during the day. If it had struck at night, the resulting deaths would likely have been in the hundreds.
All of the industries in the country, including fishing, sea salt production, and the cotton and sisal plantations, were devastated. One and a quarter million bushels of sea salt, all of it raked by hand, was lost.
Striking on the 22nd of August, this major yet compact storm demolished hundreds of buildings, the majority of crops on the Caicos plantations, and sunk many vessels. Half a million bushels of collected sea salt, ready for export, was washed away. This storm continued on to cause a large number of drowning deaths in South Carolina.