The hurricane season typically lasts from June through November. The islands have been fortunate; in the 52 years from 1950 to 2002, Grand Cayman has experienced seven tropical storms and six hurricanes, and the Sister Islands six tropical storms and five hurricanes. However, factors other than proximity must also be considered. Large, intensive Caribbean hurricanes, like 1998's Mitch (one of the most powerful hurricanes ever), can produce a storm surge that can damage docks and coastal structures from hundreds of miles away.
In 2004 Hurricane Ivan, a slow-moving category 4 storm with sustained winds of 150 mph, hit Grand Cayman (11-13 September). The winds and an estimated 8 to 10 foot storm surge (and in excess of that in some places) caused billions of dollars of damage to buildings, foliage, cars and businesses. A resilient, hard working, well-prepared population had power, phones and water restored to central George Town in a week, though peripheral areas and outlying districts waited for months in some instances. Cruise ships were able to return seven weeks after the storm and stay over tourists were welcomed back on 1 December.
Nevertheless, except for the costly Ivan (when only two died) and the killer storm of 1932 (when more than a hundred people died), the islands have remained relatively unscathed in modern times. The three islands have also never experienced, in recorded history, any destructive earthquakes, health epidemics, or other emergencies such as oil spills or attacks in the last three centuries.
Enhanced Preparedness following Ivan
But being fortunate doesn't mean Caymanians need not prepare. Especially after Hurricane Ivan, residents are well aware that they are not immune to disasters, though they may be rare and normally take the form of hurricanes.
Whenever a storm approaches, the National Hurricane Committee (NHC) sets its hurricane plan in motion. This plan ensured that Hurricane Ivan, although causing billions of dollars' worth of damage, resulted in the loss of two lives only, though the loss of even one life is regrettable.
Revamped Hurricane Plan, and groundwork for National Emergency Management Agency
While the plan obviously did much to mitigate loss of life and property during Ivan, the scale of the disaster brought home the important of preparedness and the Government set about evaluating and strengthening is preparedness plans.
With the help of disaster management consultants, the Government subsequently revamped its disaster preparedness and mitigation programmes, careful consideration of what happened during and after Hurricane Ivan. This resulted in a revised hurricane mitigation plan and the groundwork for the establishment of a dedicated, full-time comprehensive disaster management organization, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
This new body, once operational, will be tasked with setting up and implementing disaster response and readiness plans and initiatives for all types of national catastrophes.
Having an agency at national level preparing for and responding to all possible disasters on a full-time basis brings Cayman's vigilance to a new level.
Planning for Other Potential Crises
This has been deemed especially important since hurricanes are not all Caymanians have to be concerned about: the Islands frequently experience minor tremors, though often unnoticed by most residents. But in December 2004 a quake of 6.8 magnitude rocked Grand Cayman. While short in duration, it did open some small sinkholes and underscored the need for a comprehensive disaster preparedness initiative. In the wake of global tsunami fears, a temporary seismograph was installed at the Mosquito Research and Control Unit to monitor any future activity. Seismic activity in the Cayman Islands is also recorded on the US Geological Society's website.
On the security front, the Cayman Islands joined countries worldwide in upgrading national security measures after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Aviation and airport security, immigration, customs and port procedures have been working hard to maintain international standards, and the National Security Committee has been addressing Cayman's readiness for risks of this type.
But hurricanes are still our main threat. In the following section, there's a comprehensive history of Cayman storms. Researched from primary sources by Carol Winker of Cayman Free Press, the history includes eye witness descriptions. It's interesting to note how many times in the past 300 years storms destroyed every dwelling on Grand Cayman and how most storm-related deaths were Caymanian men at sea.
Last Updated: 2010-08-15