A hurricane is a large rotating system of wind and water originating in the tropics with sustained surface winds of at least 74mph.
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Hurricanes start out as a tropical disturbance when a mass of organised oceanic thunderstorms persists for 24 hours. Once closed circulation occurs and winds reach 74mph, it becomes classified as a hurricane. Hurricanes are measured by the Saffir-Simpson wind scale, but this scale is not a very good indicator of the likely impacts, so it is important to tune in to Radio Cayman and other official Government information sources when a hurricane is threatening. The hurricane category only measures wind speed, it does not consider things like the size of the hurricane wind field, the angle of approach or the forward speed. These elements can affect the height of the storm surge, which is the most significant threat to life and property. Both Grand Cayman and Little Cayman are generally very low lying (on average less than 7 feet above sea level) and a hurricane can cause the sea level to rise up in some extreme (and rare) cases as high as 20 feet above the usual sea level. In addition to the surge, hurricanes are usually accompanied by very large waves (which are a different and separate threat from the surge).
Waves are a very real threat for coastal residents on open coastlines (as opposed to canals). A wave can be a maximum of 1.5 times the depth of the water offshore. If you live near an area with a water depth of approximately 20ft, and there is a 10ft storm surge, then a 45ft wave could potentially come ashore. A wave this size would easily reach the second floor of a coastal building. Most properties located on the coast are vulnerable to impacts from the sea in a hurricane, but some people are not aware that the surge risk also exists for residents living well inland, especially those living in single storey dwellings in low lying areas. For example, if a very large and powerful hurricane threatens, and your ground floor is 10ft above sea level, it is possible for the storm surge to fill the house with water up to the ceiling, and in some cases leave you trapped.
If Cayman does get a significant hit by a hurricane, plan to be without power and water for seven days minimum. After Hurricane Ivan, it took 2-3 months for most residents to get their electricity back, and about a month for water. Keep in mind that there were also no banks, supermarkets or gas stations open for at least a week, so it is important to have an emergency supply of canned food and water that will last up to at least one week. You are advised to store a gallon of water per day for each person in your house, and to keep it cool by storing it in a dark location. Have a portable radio with extra batteries on hand because radios are an important medium for sourcing information in the aftermath of a storm. Internet, television and cell phone systems may go down for hours, days or weeks.
There is an entire department of the Cayman Islands Government which prepares for disasters including hurricanes: Hazard Management Cayman Islands has a dedicated team who can and do advise businesses, schools, community groups and other departments of Government what to do and how to prepare. They have a very useful website - www.caymanprepared.ky where they update the public on what they are doing, what is happening with named storms or any other hazard or disaste
Preparation is key — be sure to install hurricane shutters or get plywood sheets (to cover openings) before the hurricane season so you can protect your property when you need to. Once the wind breaches the home it is much easier for the roof to be lifted off. It’s too late to think about saving your personal items, important documents, filling the car up with gas or buying supply kits and non-perishable supplies when a hurricane is imminent. Also, withdraw enough cash to last for a few weeks, as after a storm ATM machines may not work, banks might ration cash withdrawals and personal cheques will not be accepted. Prepare an evacuation ‘to-go bag’ containing important documents (inside a watertight ziplock bag) and enough clothes, water, food, snacks and medication for each member of your family for at least five days. Please refer to the checklists in this chapter.
Decide ahead of time where you will stay during a hurricane. If your home is high enough and durable enough to withstand the winds, storm surge and waves, then it is probably the best place to stay. Ask your neighbours about the vulnerability of your neighbourhood in the case of flooding and wave threats, or reach out to Lands and Survey (www.caymanlandinfo.ky) to get a topographical map of your specific area. This costs roughly CI$45. If you decide that it is safe to stay in your home, find the most secure areas in your house to shelter and potential escape routes.
If your home is not secure, then evacuate! Low-lying areas will flood, so take shelter on higher ground at your workplace or a friend’s house. Hurricane shelters are also an option; a complete list of locations can be found in the Hurricane Shelters section on this page. Remember ambulances will not be running during a hurricane, so if you have a health issue that may require medical attention it is best to go to an Emergency Medical Centre (EMC) shelter.
Government organisations begin their ‘Hurricane Preparedness’ assessments in early May, before the summer storm season kicks off in the region.
The NOAA Climate Prediction Center has forecasted that the trend of an above-average hurricane season in the Atlantic will continue for future years and according to a 2021 United Nations (UN) report, the number of super storms are expected to increase due to global warming. The UN states that “future storms are likely to come with higher average wind speeds and heavier rainfall”. This means that it is important to begin your hurricane preparedness sooner, rather than later.Read More
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale is a 1-5 rating based on the hurricane’s present intensity. This is used to give an estimate of the potential property damage and flooding expected along the coast from a hurricane landfall.Read More
You should start ticking off your hurricane checklist 2-3 days in advance of the storm in order to ensure that you have the necessary items for safety and survival. Keep in mind that supply may be limited as the demand for these products will be high.Read More
Hurricane shutters are a solid investment for home owners living in the Cayman Islands, where storms and hurricanes are prevalent. Having a home that is properly secure and storm ready will give you and your family peace of mind.Read More
Decide ahead of time where you will stay during a hurricane. If you don't believe your home is durable enough to withstand the winds, or on high enough grounds to escape potential flooding, it is advised that you seek shelter elsewhere.Read More
Insurance for Hurricane Damage
Examine the insurance on your home and/or business to ensure that the full value of the building(s) and contents are protected. Document the contents and take photographs of furnishing and valuables in advance. Keep these on a digital memory stick or backup drive. If you sustain damage, these photographs will support your insurance claim.
Refer to our Property Insurance page for a comprehensive list of providers in the Cayman Islands.
Medical Assistance During a Hurricane
Every district has a shelter that is specifically designated as an Emergency Medical Centre (EMC). If you have an existing medical condition, this may be the best place to seek shelter because there are medical personnel on hand. During high winds or flooding, however, ambulances will not respond until it is safe, which could potentially be more than 24 hours later. Make sure that your health insurance is up-to-date, so you are covered in the event of a medical emergency.
Visit the Hurricane Shelters page for a list of the designated emergency medical centres so that you can plan ahead of time the best course of action for you and your family. Also check out our Health Services page for more on medical services in the Cayman Islands.
Caring for the Vulnerable in a Hurricane
Children & The Elderly
Young children and the elderly are vulnerable during a storm and, without support, can suffer great emotional distress. If you have an elderly friend or relative, consider offering your home as a safe-haven. If they are in a nursing home, be sure to confirm their emergency plans. If accompanied by an elderly person, keep in mind that they may take daily medication. Ensure that there is a sufficient supply and that it is stored in watertight containers. Young children may need special items, such as diapers, formula and bottles.
Medically Challenged & Disabled
If you have someone in your family with a serious medical condition or disability, consider leaving the Island with them prior to a serious hurricane hitting. If this is not possible, consult with a medical professional who is familiar with your loved ones medical history in order to receive tips on how to keep them as healthy as possible during a high stress situation. Also, if they are reliant on special medication, ensure you have an ample supply on hand.
There are only two pet-friendly shelters on Grand Cayman and there is limited capacity. Space will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. Refer to our Hurricane & Pets page for helpful information on how to protect your pets during a hurricane.
Tips for the Aftermath of a Hurricane
The aftermath of hurricane can be a stressful time, even though the worst is finally over. To remain healthy and safe after the storm, follow these helpful tips:
- Always assume that powerlines are live and never touch low hanging lines or objects in contact with them.
- Only turn on your main breaker once you are sure that every secondary breaker is switched off.
- Open windows and doors to ventilate your house and dry flooded or damp areas to mitigate damage from mould.
- Boil any water before consuming.
- Make sure you do not turn your water back on until advised that water services have been restored in your area. Once you turn on the water, inspect your home for damaged pipes.
- Be especially careful of pests, such as scorpions, which disperse during storms.
- Check thoroughly for gas leakages before striking a match.
- Try to restrict using the telephone unless it is an emergency to save battery life and keep lines open.
- Avoid walking in settled water as there may be bacteria in it.