Every year between June 1st and November
30th, hurricanes threaten the United States, Mexico, Central America and of course the Caribbean. When a hurricane unleashes
its fury on a populated area, it can cause vast destruction. It can kill
thousands of people and result in billions of dollars in damage to property. Hurricanes
bring with them a ton of rain. Over the
course of just a day or two, a hurricane can leave enough rain in its wake to
flood an area completely. The high winds that accompany a hurricane can destroy
structures, move cars and turn any loose debris into dangerous projectiles.
When a hurricane makes landfall, its winds can push a destructive wall of ocean
water called a storm surge in front of it. This storm surge can be so powerful
that it can level buildings. Hurricane winds can also spin off into dangerous
tornadoes creating even more damage. In this article, we will examine
hurricanes and how they directly affect the Dominican Republic.
A “Hurricane” is a name for a
tropical cyclone that forms in the Atlantic. They do develop in other
parts of the world but outside of the Atlantic, are known simply as
cyclones or typhoons. They first develop as tropical depressions. A tropical
depression is defined as a forming storm with sustained winds of less than 39
mph. If the winds increase to above 39 mph, the depression becomes a tropical
storm. In order for a tropical storm to become a hurricane, the winds have to
increase to over 74 mph and display the following characteristics:
Its winds have to swirl around a central “eye”, and
It has to be considered a low pressure system meaning that it has to
have a low barometric reading.
How do hurricanes form?
In order for a hurricane to form, there has
to be the presence of water that is at least 80 degrees F in temperature, moist
air and converging equatorial winds. When the converging winds meet, they push
the warm, moist air upwards, causing the speed of the circulating winds to
increase. The barometric pressure is the weight of the column of air that
extends directly upward from the waters surface. The lower the reading, the
stronger and more intense the hurricane becomes.
Hurricanes are categorized by wind strength on
a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being the weakest and 5 being the strongest category.
For a hurricane to be a category 1, its winds have to measure between 74 and 95
mph. For a category 2 hurricane, the winds have to be between 96 and 100 mph.
For a hurricane to be a category 3, its winds have to be between 111 and 130
mph. For it to be a category 4 storm, a hurricane has to have sustainable winds
between 131 and 155 mph. And finally for a hurricane to be categorized as 5, it
has to sustain winds over 155 mph. Naturally, the higher a hurricane is
categorized, the higher the winds, the more severe the storm surge and the more
devastation it can cause.
The origin of the word hurricane is
thought to come from the Taino word “huracan”. It is thought that the Tainos
actually adapted this word from the Caribs, the cannibalistic tribe that also
inhabited the island. Huracan was the Carib god of evil and that word is
thought to have come from “Hurakan” who was the Mayan god of wind and storm.
Hurricanes that affect the Dominican Republic have the potential to make
landfall in the United States. Because of this risk, the
US National Weather service has to closely monitor any hurricanes that are in
the Caribbean, as a result, the Dominican Republic benefits from all of the
information that becomes available.
How are hurricanes named?
Hurricanes are named by an international
committee of the World Meteorological Organization. They maintain and update
the list of names that was created by the National Hurricane Committee in Miami, Florida. Six lists of names are
rotated year over year with each list switching back and forth with each letter
between a male and a female name. The names for the 2005 hurricane season were
Arlene, Bret, Cindy, Dennis, Emily, Franklin, Gert, Harvey, Irene, Jose,
Katrina, Lee, Maria, Nate, Ophelia, Phillipe, Rita, Stan, Tammy Vince and
Wilma. If a hurricane happens to cause considerable damage, its name is removed
for sensitivity purposes. That was the case with the following hurricanes,
which hit the Dominican Republic in the past 25 years, Inez
(1966), Beulah (1967), David (1979), Hortense (1996), Georges (1998) and most
recently, Jeanne (2004).
Hurricanes hitting the Dominican Republic, contrary to most people’s beliefs,
are really not very common events. If you look at the hurricanes that have hit,
they are spaced out over the course of time. When they do strike, they rarely
hit the north coast but more often strike the southern and western parts of the
island instead. Following is a list of hurricanes on record that hit the Dominican Republic, their respective categories
and the areas they affected:
- Jeanne (Category 1). 16 September 2004. East Coast, Samana and Puerto Plata.
- Georges. (Category 3). 22 September 1998. 190 km/h. Santo Domingo and La Romana on the
- Hortense. (Category 3-1). 10 September 1996. East coast from Punta Cana to Samana. 148
- Gilbert. (Category 3). 11 September 1988. Barahona on the southwestern coast, with
winds of 200 km/h.
- Emily. (Category 4-2). 22 September 1987. Bani on the southwestern coast, winds of 220 km/h.
- David. (Category 5-4). 31 August 1979. 240 km/h. Santo Domingo on the south central
- Eloise (Category 1) 13 September 1975 240 km/hr
on Northeast coast
- Beulah. (Category 4). 10-11 September 1967.
Barahona on the western coast with winds of 225 km/h.
- Inez. (Category 4-3). 29 September 1966. Barahona on the western coast, winds of 204
- Edith. (Category 2). 26-27 September 1963. La
Romana on the southeastern coast, winds of 160 km/h.
- Katie. (Category 1). 16 October 1955. Barahona on the western coast, winds of 125 km/h.
- San Zenon. (Category 3). 3 September 1930. 200 km/h. Santo Domingo on the south/central
- Lili. 21
September 1894. Primarily affecting Santo Domingo and the southwestern
Note that the last hurricane to hit the capital city of
Santo Domingo was Georges (Category 3) on September
22nd 1998 and before that, hurricane David (Category 5) in 1979. This the
likelihood of getting caught in one is very small.
When hurricanes do hit the Dominican Republic, they have the potential to
cause quite a bit of damage because so many structures in the rural and poorer urban
areas are not very sound. As the hurricane moves inland its winds naturally
lose force but it can continue to dump tremendous amounts of rain. These heavy
rains can result in mudslides and other dangerous problems. Today, most people
have the benefit of news mediums to warn them in advance that a hurricane is
approaching but there are many people in remote parts of the country that have
no access to this information and therefore have little or no time to prepare.
For those who have advance warning that a
hurricane is approaching, the best action to take to preserve personal safety
is to evacuate the area by heading inland until the storm has passed. If you do
not have the time or the means to evacuate, you should make sure that you take
several precautions. One thing you should do is make sure that you have a
decent amount of cash to hand as bank and ATMs may be temporarily unavailable.
You should also prepare your house by installing storm shutters. Another thing
you can do is make sure you have precut plywood, a hammer and nails available
so you will be prepared to board up windows and other entrances.
should have any trees within close proximity to your home manicured so that
there are no heavy or loose branches that might snap off and cause damage due
to the heavy winds. It is important to have a disaster kit prepared with a
supply of canned foods and bottled water that can last a few days, a first aid
kit in case of injuries and a lengthy supply of any prescription medication you
may be taking. Lastly but very important is to have a flood safe evacuation
If you do stay in your house, the safest
place is usually a room without windows such as a bathroom or large closet. If
the eye of the storm happens to pass over your area, make sure not to venture
outside, as the ferocious back end of the hurricane is still to follow. If
there is water coming into your house, make sure to turn the electricity off
and use a flashlight. You should also be very careful what you do after a
hurricane has passed. People are frequently killed after hurricanes due to
electric shocks from fallen wires or lacerations.
DR1 has the only active hotel and resorts
status page relating to hurricanes in the Caribbean. In case of a hurricane, the
status page is updated to reflect any damage or closings that major hotels and
resorts around the country have experienced. You can subscribe to receive en
e-mail alert as the status of hotels and resorts are updated. To visit this
page, click this link http://dr1.com/status/.
History tells us that hurricanes do not
strike the Dominican Republic often, but occasionally they
do and when this happens, there is always the risk of destruction. The threat
of a possible approaching hurricane should always be taken seriously and all
necessary precautions should be taken.