Roatan's Rainy Season

Even in paradise there is a winter, it's just way more tolerable.

The weather change comes about slowly, and it is anticipated for the relief it brings from the heat and mugginess of the late summer, and as the signal to the end of hurricane season.

A normal West End evening. Notice the buoy.

A normal West End evening. Notice the buoy.

Typically (without the wild cards of global warming, El Nino, or political hot air blowing down from the north) August and September bring the end of summer heat, and the windless doldrums that have cursed sailors since sails. It is great diving with flat seas and insane visibility, but post dive rehydration is essential, and post dive-day rehydration becomes the norm while waiting for the evening to bring a few degrees of relief, before stumbling off to bed.

About November sometime it rains. Not much to start really, usually at night and met with "We needed that." The days shorten, and with the longer nights (about an hour) the temperature slowly starts to drop and by mid-December we start to hear minor snivels about how cold the night or morning was. Granted the chilliness here may not be as intense as what those who live in more northern climes must endure, but suffering is relative, and 75 degrees with 60% humidity is relatively darn cold here, thank you very much.

The storms arrive starting late November or so. We don't get a lot, possibly three or four a year lasting a few days. Locally they are called "Northers" and their name is an apt description. These storms originate as cold fronts in the far northwest curving out of the arctic and across the Gulf of Alaska picking up moisture, and sweeping down and across North America bringing nasty winter storms to the continental United States. It is the tail ends of these larger cold fronts that carry on south over Gulf of Mexico and across Central America.

Same buoy, different day!

Same buoy, different day!

Here in West End we live in the wind shadow of the island during the 90% of the time Roatan is exposed to the typical trade winds out of the east. The dive sites here are so well sheltered from the eastern influence that we naturally expect there to be great diving tomorrow. The Northers change all that.

Now the wind comes from the north and west and we take it right on the chin. Eight foot waves crash over the reef 150 meters off the end of our pier, and waves two feet high come across the lagoon, squirting as fountains up between the boards of the dock. The rains, if we get them, come off the ocean and across the street almost horizontally onto the deck in front of the shop.

This is about as nasty as it gets short of a hurricane, and luckily the storms don't last over a few days. Although we certainly can't dive the usual sites, while the reef gets a good scrubbing (the storms really clean the reef of algae and summers green fuzziness) we throw the dive gear in a truck, jump in a hired bus and take the 10 minute ride over the island to the south shore.

Roatan's orientation on the globe, slanting south from the east, exposes the south shore to the prevailing Trade Winds that blow westward. While the West End basks in the wind shadow and calm seas that are the norm, the south shore is usually windy and choppy year-round. During the Northers this is all reversed. Now, with the storm crashing on the reef along the north and western shores, the southern coast become as calm as a mill pond, and we go diving!

Children hand-lining off the reef top. Same storm, same day, but on the other side!

Children hand-lining off the reef top. Same storm, same day, but on the other side!

Although it is obviously the same island, and the same reef that runs all the way up to Mexico, the south shore is unique from the West End we usually dive. The reef is much closer to shore, just a stones' throw out, and the reef is much more vertical, sometimes overhanging. The constant on-shore push of wind and currents provide the reef its nutrients differently, and the life there seems to hang with soft corals, and rope sponges acting as tinsel. Fish and animals congregate differently, and for unknown reasons we find far more sea horses, which are rare on the northern reef.

Come February the storms, if they happen, lose intensity, and the weather resumes to the usual norm, and we take it all for granted again until the next event from up north. With access to diving on both sides of the island, rare are the days we are "weathered out". Maybe a couple of times a year we have to succumb to the inevitable, and call it a "Rum Day". These days will not be chronicled here. 


  

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