Travellers' guide: the Caribbean

Travellers' guide: the Caribbean

Fri, 01/10/2010 - 13:37
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Dr Liz's travel weather column appears in the travel section of the Independent every second Saturday

The Caribbean

The Caribbean only really has two seasons – one wet, one dry. Between December and June the islands are pleasantly warm, dry and sunny. The remainder of the year can be hot and wet, as occasionally the islands are affected by passing hurricanes. Even more occasionally, the hurricane's path will directly cross one of the islands, which occurred most recently with Hurricane Ike in September 2008. The hurricane season runs from June to November, peaking in late August and September, and yields heavy rain and strong winds. Direct hits by major storms are very rare.

As with any tropical location, the weather is characterised by the trade winds – prevailing easterly winds. For centuries, the trade winds were used by captains of sailing ships to cross the world's oceans. However, from a meteorological perspective, the trade winds act as the steering flow for tropical storms that form over the Atlantic. For most of the year, their impact upon the Caribbean is benign – blowing around the shallow cumulus clouds that provide occasional shade.

Trade winds also steer African dust westward across the Atlantic into the Caribbean Sea. When the dust, which originates in the Sahara, travels over the Caribbean islands, rainfall is suppressed; the sky changes from a blue to a milky white and the islands are likely to enjoy an increase in spectacular red sunsets. This happens most commonly in July.

It was the prominence of the trade winds that led to the two of the island groups being called the Windward Islands and the Leeward Islands. The Windward Islands are the first set of islands the sailing ships arriving in the New World would have encountered. Because of their position, the weather on the Windward Islands always feels milder than that of the Leewards, and the northeastern sides of most islands in the area are nearly always lusher, as they receive more rainfall.

The British tend to visit the Caribbean in the winter to enjoy guaranteed sunshine. But don't be surprised to see an isolated shower; this is the tropics, after all.

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