On the topic of Hurricanes this week, here is another great Geography in the News article from our archives called Hurricanes and the Caribbean from Dr. Neal Lineback, reposted from the team at the Maps101 blog:
The 2008 hurricane season has arrived. The tropical vacation destinations known as the Antilles are particularly vulnerable to these tropical storms and often bear the brunt of hurricanes that enter the Caribbean Sea.
The Caribbean islands contain some of the Western Hemisphere’s most expensive vacation destinations. The region also has some of the world’s worst poverty. Hurricanes are a threat to all who live and vacation there from June through December.
The Caribbean region consists of the islands and mainland surrounding the Caribbean geologic plate and the Caribbean Sea. This is one of the earth’s most active tectonic and volcanic regions. It formed more than 7,000 islands and islets in the Caribbean archipelago arc known as the Greater and Lesser Antilles.
Hurricanes and the Caribbean
The Greater Antilles include Cuba, Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Jamaica and Puerto Rico on the northern margins of the Caribbean. The Lesser Antilles consist of the smaller islands located along the eastern side of the Caribbean Sea and are further divided into the Windward and Leeward Islands.
The topography of the islands varies greatly, from volcanic peaks on St. Kitts and Montserrat to relatively flat terrain on Aruba. There are 13 sovereign states, 12 dependent territories and two overseas departments (similar to states) in the Antilles.
All of the Antilles are tropical, situated at latitudes where the trade winds blow almost continuously from the northeast, bringing warm, moist air to the windward sides of the islands. Mountainous terrain regularly experiences high rainfall amounts, providing fresh water and resulting in tropical rainforests growing on steep windward slopes.
The name Caribbean derives from the Amerindian ethnic group called Caribs that occupied the Lesser Antilles and parts of the coastal mainland when the Europeans first arrived in 1492. The initial European explorers tried to force the Caribs to work in fields and mines. However, the original islanders were too independent and the majority of population was wiped out as European settlers seized their islands and brought African slaves to provide labor and grow sugarcane.
The Spanish were the first Europeans to conquer and settle the Antilles. The French and British alternatively fought for control of the land. Even the Netherlands and United States vied for some of the islands. Today, the islands’ cultures are a polyglot of different languages, diets, house types, political systems, economies, laws and money.
Hurricanes can bring exceedingly high precipitation, high winds and storm surges anywhere around the Caribbean region, particularly to Antilles. Large resort properties may sustain massive damage from a direct hurricane hit. Most islanders’ houses, however, are more fragile and can’t withstand hurricane-force winds.
Nearly all of the Caribbean islands have hurricane evacuation plans and shelters. Tourists are evacuated and local residents, particularly those from coastal villages, are moved to reinforced hurricane shelters. Schools and public buildings serve as shelters and buildings designed specifically for hurricane events are being constructed.
Most tropical storms that are or are destined to become hurricanes enter the Caribbean Sea from the northeast, riding in on the northeast trade winds. Consequently, the northeast sides of the islands are the first to experience the damaging effects.
One example is Hurricane Georges, which pummeled St. Kitts and Nevis in 1998. Georges was one of the strongest hurricanes ever to strike St. Kitts. It damaged 85 percent of the local structures and totally destroyed 30 percent. Half of the island’s population of more than 30,000 was without shelter, food or water. Georges made more landfalls than any other hurricane in recent times: Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba and the United States (twice).
With the hurricane season here, Caribbean islanders will keep a wary eye to the northeast. Nobody wants another Hurricane Georges.
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