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What are some natural disasters in Jamaica?


What are some natural disasters in Jamaica? || Answered By Aneisha Dobson, Associate Writer

Natural disasters can be described as horrors of nature which come about from the natural processes of the Earth. Many lives have been lost, property destroyed, economies collapsed and the spirits of people have been shattered due to the ravage of several natural hazards.

While the cause of these natural disasters are generally caused by nature, ill practices of humans, such as pollution, are also contributing factors of some natural disasters.

A country’s geographical structure and location however is also another factor.

Jamaica has had its own fair share of natural disastrous events, some more serious than others.

I'll now share with you some of the natural disasters that typically occurs in Jamaica.

  • Landslides

    Landslides are the collapse of earth from a mountain or cliff. Landslides occur due to an increase gravitational pull when weight is added to the rock mass.

    They usually occur due to various factors, such as the vibration from earthquakes and water-logging (caused by rainfall) that saturate the top layers of unstable soil and cause it to slide downhill.

    In addition, certain human activities has also been noted to cause landslides. Deforestation, vegetation removal, road construction and building construction on steep slopes are just a few of the activities that cause landslides.

    This natural disaster is somewhat overlooked compared to other natural disasters. This may do the fact that landslides are triggered from other natural disasters. For instance, Port Royal was gravely affected by a landslide that took a great amount of the town below sea level in 1692. This landslide was as a result of an earthquake.

  • Lightning

    Lightning is another phenomena of nature and another of the ones that occurs in Jamaica, albeit infrequentlly.

    It is an atmospheric discharge of electricity that typically occurs during thunderstorms. It seeks the shortest path towards the ground, as such, the tallest object within its path are usually struck. If you are unfortunate to be in its path, you could be struck, which may lead to you being rendered paralyzed or even killed!

    By the way, did you know that there are various types of lightning?

    Yup!, there are actually four common types:
    ▷ Intracloud Lightning: This is the most common type and takes place within a cloud. Therefore, this type is mostly harmless to anything on the earth’s surface.

    ▷ Intercloud Lightning: In this type, lightning strikes from one cloud to another. While humans on earth are safe, aircrafts may be affected.

    ▷ Cloud-to-Ground Lightning: This type is the most feared of all because, as the name suggests, lightning strikes from cloud to the earth surface.

    ▷ Ground-to-Cloud Lightning: Also known as triggering lightning, this type is similar to cloud-to-ground lightning except that the strike originates from a tall, earth-bound object, such as a high mountain peaks, tall television towers or radio towers, to the cloud.

  • Floods

    Floods are known to have long-term and widespread effects that result in property and infrastructure damage, loss of crops and, at times, loss of life.

    Flooding often occur during times of intensive rainfall. Therefore, when other natural disaster that accompany rainfall occur, such as hurricane, flooding is likely.

    We have several so called 'flood prone' areas here in Jamaica, usually recorded by parish.

    In my home parish of St. James, here are the list of the main flood-prone areas.

    1. Anchovy
    2. Reading
    3. Rose Hall
    4. Wiltshire
    5. Wales Pond
    6. Moore Park
    7. Long Hill
    8. Caanan
    9. Cambridge
    10. Montego Bay
    11. Green Wood &
    12. Horse Guards

    If you wish to know the flood-prone areas in your parish, visit the Office Of Disaster Preparedness Website at

  • Hurricane

    Hurricanes are massive, violent storm systems that form over warm waters and move towards land.

    This is by far the most common natural disaster in the Jamaica and is the cause of the Caribbean’s most catastrophic events.

    The Caribbean’s tropical temperature and warm ocean waters has made it a haven for hurricanes development. Also, since we are located in the Atlantic belt, we are susceptible to the full effect of these storm systems.

    The Atlantic Hurricane Season lasts from June 1 to November 30. A potential hurricane goes through 4 phases before it can be considered a hurricane:
    Phase 1 - Tropical Disturbance, Phase 2 - Tropical Depression, Phase 3 - Tropical Storm, Phase 4 – Hurricane

    Once a storm has garnered windspeed of 74 mph and more it is classified as hurricane. As windspeed increase so does the damage that the hurricane can cause.

    Jamaica has had its fair share of hurricanes throughout its history, some more extreme than others. Here’s a list of hurricanes that have affected Jamaica since 1980:

    • Hurricane Allen – August 1980
    • Hurricane Gilbert “Wild Gilbert” – 12 September 1988
    • Hurricane Michelle – 2001
    • Hurricane Charley - 11August 2004
    • Hurricane Ivan - 10-12 September 2004
    • Hurricane Dennis - 2005
    • Hurricane Emily - 2005
    • Hurricane Wilma - 17- 18 October 2005
    • Hurricane Dean – 19 August 2007
    • Hurricane Sandy – October 2012

    Usually close to the hurricane season, we often see ads educating citizens on how to effectively prepare for the upcoming hurricane season.

  • Storm Surges

    This natural disaster is of great concern to those individuals who live close to the coastal region. A storm surge is the abnormal rise in the water level along a shoreline produced by a meteorological disturbance such as hurricanes (ODPEM).

    According to ODPEM, as a hurricane passes on the surface of the sea, it will create massive waves which flood the shoreline. As the water levels begin to rise and the waves hammer the shoreline it causes coastal erosion, flooding, scour roods, undercut sea walls and demolish buildings.

    So if you’re at risk of storm surges you should:
    • Listen to the radio
    • Take the necessary flood precautions
    • If waves are higher than normal tide it is best for you evacuate

  • Tsunami

    While Jamaica has never been affected by a tsunami, there has been an increase in awareness since the catastrophe that occurred with 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

    For those who don’t know, a tsunami is a series of waves that can travel at speeds averaging 450 - 600 miles per hour in the open ocean. As the waves come closer to the coast, their speed decreases and their amplitude increases. Tsunamis are produced by earthquakes, underwater landslides and volcanic eruptions. There are several risks associated with a tsunami, such as flooding, contaminated water and destruction of infrastructure.

    Since earthquakes are a trigger for tsunamis, if you feel a strong quake stay away from places where a tsunami can occur, such as beaches and the coastline.

  • Earthquakes

    Earthquakes are another common natural disaster that we experience in Jamaica, periodically. An earthquake is defined as a series of vibrations caused by movements within the earth’s crusts. Therefore, earthquake activity felt in Jamaica is as a result of the movement occurring within the boundary zone of the Caribbean. According to ODPEM, Jamaica may experience up to 200 felt earthquakes per year, although most are not readily felt/ noticed.

    The largest earthquake devastation in Jamaica’s history was the famous Port Royal earthquake of June 7, 1692. This earthquake was felt island-wide and a part of Port Royal sank into the sea. Approximately 2,000 persons died as a result of an outbreak of yellow fever, which developed after the quake.

  • Drought

    Drought is described as a lack of sufficient rainfall for an extended period of time that persists long enough to cause problems, such as crop damage.

    They are caused by several factors, including reduced cloud cover resulting in greater evaporation rates, reduced rainfall and densely populated lands.

    Due to the poor water system, increase in population and reliance on the agricultural sector, Jamaica is extremely vulnerable to this natural disaster. In an effort to mitigate drought, it is important that we have taken step towards water conversation.

With their unpredictability, preparing for a natural disasters can be difficult. However, there are many organizations that are geared towards sensitizing the public on natural disasters.

One such organization in Jamaica is The Office of Disasters Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) as I mentioned earlier.

If you wish to garner more information about the ODPEM, please visit their website at



  1. National Library of Jamaica. (n.d.). History of Hurricanes and Floods in Jamaica. Retrieved from National Library of Jamaica:

  2. Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management. (n.d.). Types of Hazards and Disasters. Retrieved from Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management: HazardsDisasters/tabid/250/Default.aspx

  3. Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management. (n.d.). Who are we. Retrieved from Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management:

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