By Alan Markoff
The past five hurricane seasons have been relatively quiet throughout the Cayman Islands, with no significant impacts from tropical storms or hurricanes. There haven’t even been many scares over that time period.
However, throughout recorded history, Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman collectively have seen an abundance of tropical cyclone activity. In fact, the website hurricanecity.com claims the Cayman Islands is the most affected area in the Caribbean Sea, with 85 hits and brushes with tropical storms or hurricanes since 1871.
That number also ranks number 4 for the most tropical cyclone activity of all the places that have ever been affected by such storms in the Atlantic Basin.
Hurricanecity.com states that Cayman is statistically brushed or hit by a tropical storm or hurricane once every 1.68 years and that it suffers, on average, a direct hit from a hurricane once every 5.3 years. More ominously, it states that Grand Cayman is now statistically four years overdue to be impacted by tropical storm or hurricane.
Since the early days of permanent settlement of the Cayman Islands, records – sometimes with little information – have been kept of the hurricanes that have impacted the Cayman Islands. Here is a list of some of the most significant hurricanes that passed over or close to our shores.
1731, September – The sea breached the shore on Grand Cayman at Newlands.
1735, September – There was a storm, but there were no details.
1751, August – The sea breached the shore near Pedro, according to cartographer George Gauld.
1784, July 31 – A “dreadful hurricane” reportedly blew down every house on Grand Cayman, with the exception of one, which lost its roof.
1785, Aug. 27 – Based on oral reports, every house except for Pedro St. James was blown down during a hurricane. Many people died as a result of collapsing houses, falling trees and from a “tidal wave.” Many vessels were lost as well.
1793, Oct. 20-21 – The shore in West Bay on Grand Cayman was breached by the sea and many houses were destroyed, some washed away. A record exists stating the population was still struggling to recover in February 1794.
1812, October – A hurricane struck Grand Cayman.
1835, August – No details are available on the storm.
1837 or 1838, Sept. 28 and Oct. 25 – Although the year is uncertain, Grand Cayman was struck by two t hurricanes weeks apart. Only five of Cayman’s 18 vessels that provided provisions survived.
1846, Oct. 10 – A hurricane breached the shore “submerged all the lower land” of Grand Cayman and inundating all the fresh water wells on the island, except for one in Bodden Town.
1876, Oct. 12-17 – All of Grand Cayman’s churches and most of the houses were destroyed by a slow moving hurricane. The houses that remained were all badly damaged. All of the agriculture was destroyed and famine was narrowly averted with the help of Jamaica and other places.
1903, Aug. 11 – A fast-moving but powerful hurricane hit Grand Cayman, destroying many houses, with North Side taking the worst of the storm. Five ships that put out from the harbor when the storm hit were lost at sea. 1909, Aug. 24 – A hurricane hit Grand Cayman, bringing heavy rains and high seas that inundated parts of the island. The Cayman Brac schooner Bertha was lost at sea with all hands on a voyage from New York to Cayman Brac.
1910, Oct.12-13 – Heavy seas as a result of a passing hurricane washed away roads in George Town, Red Bay and Spotts and destroyed the West Bay pier. Little damage was done in the Sister Islands, but two Cayman Brac vessels were lost with all hands – the W K Merrit and William Bloomfield. The hurricane later hit Cuba and was considered one of the most severe natural disasters in the island’s history.
1915, Aug. 13 – A powerful hurricane devastated Cayman Brac, totally destroying 75 percent of the 260 houses on the island and leaving only one completely intact. Two people reportedly died, including a child.
1915, Sept. 25 – A strong hurricane passed southwest of Grand Cayman and caused the sea to sweep “a distance inland never experienced within the memory of the oldest living inhabitants, since the year 1846.” This storm went on to hit New Orleans and was referred to as the “Great Storm of 1915.”
1916, Aug.16 – A hurricane that passed very close to the Sister Islands destroyed all plantations on both islands.
1917, Sept. 24 – A major hurricane passed close to the Sister Islands, impacting Grand Cayman as well, where two lives were lost and 100 houses demolished.
1932, Nov. 7-8 – All three Cayman Islands received heavy damage from a slow-moving Category 5 hurricane that killed one person on Grand Cayman, 68 people on Cayman Brac and 40 more Caymanians at sea. The storm washed out roads and destroyed or seriously damaged many homes.
1933, July 1 – A hurricane, which had already killed 13 people in Trinidad, passed just south of Grand Cayman, causing the sea to breach the shore at Prospect.
1935, Sept. 28 – A major hurricane passed very close to the Sister Islands, destroying houses on Cayman Brac.
1944, Oct. 16-17 – A slow-moving hurricane passed close to Grand Cayman causing four days of heavy rains, strong winds and rough seas. Part of West Bay Road was buried in several feet of sand and both Red Bay and Prospect were inundated by storm surge.
1952, Oct. 24 – Hurricane “Fox” – named using the phonetic alphabet. This major hurricane that formed south of Grand Cayman and passed just west of that island eventually caused mass destruction in Cuba, where it also killed 40 people.
1980, Aug. 6 – Major Hurricane Allen passed north of Grand Cayman with 135 mph winds damaging homes and knocking down 70 percent of the islands utility poles.
1981, Nov. 4-5 – A tropical storm formed south of Grand Cayman, moved north, passing Grand Cayman as a tropical storm and then intensified into Hurricane Katrina, causing damage to Cayman Brac.
1988, Sept. 13 – Hurricane Gilbert, the most intense Caribbean hurricane on record at the time, passed just south of Grand Cayman as strong Category 4 hurricane. It caused significant damage to crops and trees and damaged homes.
2001, Nov. 3 – Major Hurricane Michelle passed 130 miles west of Grand Cayman but still caused considerable wave damage, including to the Cayman Islands Turtle Farm.
2002, Sept. 30 – Hurricane Lili passed just north of Sister Islands while moving west with 80 mph winds, but not causing too much damage.
2004, Aug. 12 – Hurricane Charley passed in between Grand Cayman and the Sister Islands, causing very little damage, but the storm continued on eventually making a landfall in Florida, where it became, at the time, the second costliest hurricane is U.S. history.
2004, Sept. 11-12 – Slow-moving, Category 4 Hurricane Ivan passed 23 miles south of Grand Cayman killing two people, damaging or destroying 90 percent of the homes and causing an estimated $2.4 billion of damage.
2008, Nov. 8 – Hurricane Paloma appeared to be on a direct course for Grand Cayman, but veered to the east at the last moment and made an direct hit on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman as a major hurricane with 140 mph winds. No one died during the hurricane, but it caused extensive damage to roads and infrastructure on the island.”