Beyond a Drought

It’s not your imagination, St. Martin is very dry right now.

Why is it so dry right now on St. Martin? The answer is pretty pretty complex, and a bit scary, too.

For starters, spring is the dry season. This time of year, the island is usually as dry as it gets. That’s why people go camping on Easter and why you should never schedule an outdoor event in November. Usually, November is the wettest month and things get drier until April. Starting in May, rain gradually increases through the fall.

But it also seems drier than usual, and it is. St. Martin was rated “severely dry” for the first part of 2019 and the forecast for the coming months is drier than usual. It isn’t necessarily unusual to have a dry year, this often comes in phases with bigger weather cycles like El Niño and La Niña.

Today’s dry weather isn’t just about rainfall. Higher temperatures are also making a difference. Higher temperatures increase evaporation, from the ground and from plants. Many plants adapted to the local climate lose their leaves to conserve water in dry times. Plants less suited to the climate may just die. Either way, St. Martin looks quite brown and barren.

Dry pond bed exposed at Chevrise Pond.

There are reasons to believe that things are getting drier around here. New studies found that the Caribbean drought of 2013-2016 was the worst on record. Climate models also predict less rainfall in the northeast Caribbean in the future.

Things could be worse. Although they are still used, the island no longer depends on cisterns and wells for water. Agriculture is also a tiny part of the economy now. This is in part because so many livestock died in the droughts of 1974-77 and 1986-87. With a tourism economy and a desalination plant, drought may be an eyesore and a fire risk, but it isn’t a threat to survival.

At least, not completely. For wildlife and native vegetation, a shift to a drier climate may become deadly. Especially when wild spaces are already pushed to the limit. A dry future may also spell doom for cultural traditions connected to plants and livestock.

Do you remember a drought from back in the day and how St. Martiners dealt with it? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or to [email protected].

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