Weather: Caribbean/Atlantic Islands
Aruba | Bahamas | Bermuda | Cuba | Dominican Republic | Haiti | Jamaica | Netherlands Antilles
The homogeneous cultures that extend across much of the Caribbean have been shaped in part by a beneficent climate. Across this great arc of islands, temperatures gradually rise and fall from pleasantly warm levels in January to readings by July that are definitely tropical but seldom scorching. The most distinct transitions occur across the westernmost islands of Cuba and Hispaniola (including Haiti and the Dominican Republic), as well as the islands of the Bahamas. Havana and Nassau often drop below 16°C/60°F in January, but seldom below 10°C/50°F. The rare damp days in mid-winter are often the coolest. A few winter days also see rainfall along the northeast coasts of the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, where trade winds – reinforced by cool high pressure over the Atlantic – push moisture up steep mountain slopes. Across the flat Bahamas, the cool spells tend to be less moist, and their likelihood decreases as you head from northwest to southeast.
Across most of the Caribbean, the core of the dry season extends from February to April. During this span, a stout trade wind may be the most weather excitement you get on a week-long visit. From May through October, you'll probably see a thunderstorm on at least one or two evenings a week. Storms become more likely during this period as you head east into the Lesser Antilles, where some highland stations get a heavy dose of rain almost every day. Fortunately, even the wettest spots normally get a good deal of summer sunshine. In general, you can expect points on the west and south (downwind) coasts of the Leeward and Windward Islands to get a bit less rain than those on the north and east coasts – although this rule doesn't always hold, especially where the topography is varied. Along the south edge of the Caribbean, Aruba and the southernmost Netherlands Antilles enjoy uniformly balmy air and an uncommonly arid climate for a tropical sea, with annual rainfall on the order of 500mm/19in in many spots. Even during the autumn, only about every second or third day sees rain, and more often than not it's fairly light. If you want to further minimize your risk of getting wet, visit from February to July.
Cuba and Hispaniola usually get a marked canicula sometime in July and August, which cuts the number of wet days in half over a span of roughly two or three weeks. These are the driest islands of the north Caribbean. Most of Cuba gets less rain on average than nearby Miami, and its south coasts and inland southeast get an especially high number of rain-free days, even during the wet season. (Don't expect a break from tropical humidity, though.) Jamaica's south coast enjoys a similarly dry climate by tropical standards. Kingston often remains rain-free while nearby Blue Mountain is getting drenched. Haiti, lying downwind from moisture-intercepting mountains, is distinctly drier than the Dominican Republic. Some parts of interior Haiti get well under 1000mm/39in a year, and Port-au-Prince soaks in sunshine year round.
Although its weather resembles that of the Caribbean during the warm, humid summer, Bermuda – at 32°N – barely qualifies as a sub-tropical island. It's far enough north so that mid-latitude storms can brush by from autumn through spring. Thus, a decent rain may fall any time of year; spring is a bit drier than the other seasons. Wintertime temperatures are dependably cool to mild, with little more risk of a truly cold night than in the Bahamas. The official Atlantic hurricane season runs from June through November. Climatology tends to favour some areas over others as the season unfolds. Some of the worst storms emerge off Africa and develop as Cape Verde hurricanes; these are most likely from August through September and can threaten any part of the region. The Caribbean itself tends to become active later in the season, producing hurricanes that may approach Hispaniola or the northern parts of Central America from September into late October. The Bahamas and, in particular, Bermuda are sometimes hit by hybrid systems late in the season. Part tropical, part mid-latitude, these hybrids seldom cause the widespread destruction that full-fledged hurricanes can produce, but they may still put a damper on a holiday with heavy rain and wind.