Caribbean Islands Table of Contents
The Bahamas is an archipelago of approximately 700 flat, lowlying islands in the western Atlantic Ocean (see fig. 1). It extends from eighty kilometers east of Florida to eighty kilometers northeast of Cuba. In addition to the United States and Cuba, neighbors of the Bahamas include Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands; both are located to the southeast of the Bahamas. The Tropic of Cancer runs through the middle of the archipelago, passing across the lower part of Great Exuma Island and the upper part of Long Island. Although the total land area of the archipelago is 13,934 square kilometers, slightly larger than New Jersey and Connecticut combined, the islands are sprawled over an area of approximately 259,000 square kilometers (see fig. 18; table 6, Appendix A).
The islands are surface projections of two oceanic banks, the Little Bahama Bank and the Great Bahama Bank. The highest point is only sixty-three meters above sea level on Cat Island; the island of New Providence, where the capital city of Nassau is located, reaches a maximum elevation of only thirty-seven meters. The land on the Bahamas has a foundation of fossil coral, but much of the rock is oolitic limestone; the stone is derived from the disintegration of coral reefs and seashells. The land is primarily either rocky or mangrove swamp. Low scrub covers much of the surface area. Timber is found in abundance on four of the northern islands: Grand Bahama, Great Abaco, New Providence, and Andros. On some of the southern islands, low-growing tropical hardwood flourishes. Although some soil is very fertile, it is also very thin. Only a few freshwater lakes and just one river, located on Andros Island, are found in the Bahamas.
The climate of the archipelago is semitropical and has two seasons, summer and winter. During the summer, which extends from May through November, the climate is dominated by warm, moist tropical air masses moving north through the Caribbean. Midsummer temperatures range from 21o C to 34o C with a relative humidity of 60 to 100 percent. In winter months, extending from December through April, the climate is affected by the movement of cold polar masses from North America. Temperatures during the winter months range from 15o C to 24o C.
Yearly rainfall averages 132 centimeters and is usually concentrated in the May-June and September-October periods. Rainfall often occurs in short-lived, fairly intense showers accompanied by strong gusty winds, which are then followed by clear skies.
Winds are predominantly easterly throughout the year but tend to become northeasterly from October to April and southeasterly from May to September. These winds seldom exceed twenty-four kilometers per hour except during hurricane season. Although the hurricane season officially lasts from June to November, most hurricanes in the Bahamas occur between July and October; as of late 1987, the last one to strike was Hurricane David in September 1979. Damage was estimated at US$1.8 million and mainly affected agricultural products. The most intense twentieth-century hurricane to strike the Bahamas was in 1929; winds of up to 225 kilometers per hour were recorded. Many lives were lost, and there was extensive damage to buildings, homes, and boats.
Data as of November 1987