Wet Weather

January 12, 2012

Weather

I stumbled upon an interesting piece of news recently on the National Weather Service – San Juan website. It turns out that 2011 was the wettest year in 113 years of record-keeping in Puerto Rico, with 89.5 inches of rain recorded in the San Juan area. And on both St. Thomas and St. Croix 2011 was the 9th wettest on record, with 46.1 and 47.7 inches of rain, respectively.

The past decade has seen a series of intense rain events in the Virgin Islands. First in November 2003 (‘the 2003 rains’), then in July and November of 2010, the islands received so much rain in such a short space of time that houses were flooded, walls collapsed, hillsides fell, roadways were seriously undermined and asphalt surfacing completely destroyed. (During the worst stretch in November 2010 Tortola received some 23 inches of rain over a three day period!) 2011 was a wet year as well, but thankfully the rain did not come all at once and we did not experience the same level of damage.

The NWS stats illustrate a couple of interesting things:

1. The last few years really have been extraordinary. In St. Thomas, for example, 2003, 2005, 2010 and 2011 all rank on the list of the 10 wettest years on record. That means 4 of the 10 wettest years of the past century came during the last ten years.

2. Rainfall is highly localized. We all know this, but the statistics bear it out with data. For example, in 2010 89.5 inches of rain fell in Puerto Rico; 61.2 inches in St. Thomas; and 49.9 in St. Croix. That’s a lot of variation for islands which are actually very close to one another.

So is all this rain good, or bad? When it comes all at once, it’s clearly bad. The islands’ infrastructure, especially in the BVI where I live, just is not designed for so much water. Climate scientists say that the Caribbean must prepare for more and more powerful hurricanes and heavy rains, so it would seem that our engineers need to ratchet up the risk profiles they use to design infrastructure.

In general, however, drought is more feared than rain, since so many households depend on rainwater to fill cisterns. And drier weather is what climate scientists say will be the real problem for the Virgin Islands as our planet continues to warm. For a homeowner, nothing sounds better than rainwater falling into the cistern beneath your feet.

So what will 2012 bring? Well, it’s too early to say but so far we’ve been getting more rain than usual.

 

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About Susanna

Susanna is a Tennessee native transplanted to the BVI, and the author of Moon Handbooks Virgin Islands.

View all posts by Susanna

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