Eye on the Sky

Let it Rain!

The annual roller coaster.
By Paul Wilkerson

As a tourist to the Turks & Caicos Islands, I can count on one hand the number of times it has rained during our stays! Many visitors don’t realize what a commodity rainfall is, and how desperately it is needed here. When it comes to water availability, it is vitally important for the Islands to get frequent rainfall. Many residents are dependent on “sky juice” captured via roofs and gutters and stored in a cistern or “tank.” When that runs dry, they must purchase “city” water from the desalination plant on island, as well as bottled water for their everyday use. Besides home use, fresh water is needed for gardens, farms and animals. In fact, water is one of life’s necessities that we take all too much for granted outside of the Caribbean and other locations where it is often scarce.

Thankfully, Mother Nature can help bridge the gap and bring much needed fresh water to the Islands that can be captured and utilized in many different ways by those who live here. Many homes across all of the Islands utilize cisterns, some of which can be quite large, capable of holding thousands of gallons of water. Whenever beneficial rains fall, even if for only a few minutes, these homes can capture this fresh water through funneling systems that direct it into home “tanks.” Owners can then utilize that water daily to take care of themselves and their households. This reduces not only the requirement for desalinated water, but it also helps keep water costs lower for owners when rainfall is abundant. And in the Turks & Caicos Islands, rainfall is a very welcome product!
Many may be surprised to learn that some parts of the Turks & Caicos can annually average as much as 40 inches of rain or slightly higher, while other parts average less than 25 inches. The winners in the rainfall department are North and Middle Caicos, along with Providenciales. Those receiving the least amount of rainfall are Grand Turk, Salt Cay, South Caicos and the smaller cays to the east of their larger neighbors mentioned before.

This mid-afternoon rain shower fell on Pumpkin Bluff Pond on North Caicos.

There are several reasons why this is likely to occur. In the 2018/19 Winter issue of Times of the Islands, we talked about cloud formations and where we normally see that occur. Thanks to the larger land mass and gradual upsloping of East and Middle Caicos, we normally see our primary rain clouds develop in these general areas. With the ever-present tradewinds coming from the east and southeast the majority of the time, these clouds will produce rainfall across North and Middle Caicos and continue on to produce rainfall over Providenciales and nearby cays. Visitors to the Islands will note vegetation appear more lush across North and Middle Caicos and this is due primarily to the higher amounts of rainfall these islands experience. Unfortunately for Grand Turk, Salt Cay and South Caicos, the terrain is rather flat and therefore don’t get the necessary lift in the atmosphere necessary to produce rainfall. This results in very low rainfall amounts during the year and very arid conditions normally.
There are periods of the year when the Turks & Caicos have what could be called a “rainy season.” More correctly said, it is the time when the Islands experience their greatest amount of rainfall. TCI usually sees its first small peak between May and July. This can largely be contributed to tropical waves and disturbances that move through the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea during the beginning into middle portions of the hurricane season. In years when the hurricane season is not very active, the TCI in general will see below-normal rainfall.
The primary rainy season is typically from October through December, when the Islands can get as much as 40% of their entire seasonal rainfall. In this instance however, there are two factors at play that contribute to this flux in the season. The first factor is the fact that we are still in hurricane season. Tropical waves will continue to impact the Turks & Caicos generally until late October or early November. Most important is the second factor, and that would be the change to northern hemisphere fall and winter. As we transition into these seasons, the jet stream—which is responsible for moving low pressure systems across the United States—begins to sink south into the lower portions of the US and at times well down into the Gulf of Mexico. This allows trailing cold fronts to routinely swing through the Islands during this time. This also greatly increases the chances of rainfall. Naturally once we exit hurricane season and are dependent solely on systems from the US, the average rainfall falls off once again for January through April with much drier conditions as a result.
As tourists, naturally our instinct tells us we don’t want to see rainfall while we are visiting. I propose we change our thinking. Based on what you have read here, my hope is that on your next adventure to the Islands, if you experience rain, take a moment to celebrate with the Belongers. While that rainfall may cause a small inconvenience in your day, it is providing life sustainment for those who call the Turks & Caicos Islands home!

Paul Wilkerson is an American meteorologist and tourist who frequents the Turks & Caicos Islands. Along with his wife and two daughters, the Wilkersons stay actively engaged with Islanders throughout the year with his Facebook page Turks and Caicos Islands Weather Info.

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