Almost 13 inches of rain in the 48-hour period between 7am Sunday and 7am Tuesday caused widespread flooding on Grand Cayman leading to travelling difficulties and the closure of nearly all schools on Tuesday.
Cayman Islands National Weather Service Chief Meteorologist John Tibbetts said another 3 to 4 inches of rain was possible on Tuesday.
“According to the models, we will have some more heavy showers today and tonight,” he said Tuesday morning.
The weather system also brought gusty conditions with winds of 15 to 20 knots and rough seas of 4 to 6 feet. A small craft advisory will remain in effect through Friday.
The weather station at Owen Roberts International Airport measured 9.65 inches of rain between Sunday morning at 7am and Monday morning at 7am, and then another 3.32 inches between Monday morning and Tuesday morning at 7am, indicating a total of 12.97 inches of rainfall in just 48 hours. Wet May
Through Tuesday morning, 15.06 inches of rain had fallen during the month of May, already making it the third wettest May on record, trailing only the 15.17 inches that fell in May 1961 and the 16.14 inches that fell in May 2002.
With more than a week to go in the month and more rain expected from this event, Cayman almost certainly will see a new monthly record for rainfall for the second straight month. Last month, 7.4 inches of rain fell, shattering the previous record for rainfall in April by nearly an inch.
Mr. Tibbetts said the current rain event was the result of an area of disturbed weather caused by a broad area of low pressure interacting with a surface trough.
He said Cayman often sees a lot of rain in late May.
“We’re coming up on the end of May and the end of May is the typical start of rainy season,” he said. “Generally speaking, the first part of May is dry and the end of May can bring quite a bit of rain.”
Although the weather system isn’t expected to develop into anything more than a rain-maker in the area of the Cayman Islands, some of the forecast models were showing it could develop into a tropical cyclone and be drawn northeast toward Florida this weekend. Should that happen, it would become the second tropical cyclone in May, following Tropical Storm Alberto, which formed this past weekend off the South Carolina coast and dissipated on Tuesday.
The Atlantic Basin hurricane season doesn’t officially begin until 1 June, although cyclones can and have occurred in every month of the year.
Raining cats and dogs
One building that was hit severely by flood waters Monday was the humane society facility in George Town.
Rain flooded the building with ankle-deep water, sending volunteers scrambling to move the animals being housed there to drier ground. Due to the standing water, dogs and cats housed in ground-level cages indoors had to be relocated to kennels outside, even though it meant being exposed to the continually falling rain.
On Tuesday, Humane Society President Carolyn Parker said all of the animals kept at the shelter had been moved to temporary homes. However, she was not certain how quickly the flood damage might be repaired.
“We now have the daunting task of cleaning up and making the shelter sanitary again,” Mrs. Parker said. “Any assistance with this would be greatly appreciated. Unfortunately, we are situated in a flood prone area. We need to find a new suitable location where the animals and shelter will not suffer from this kind of natural disaster.”
The North Sound Road facility is prone to flooding when there is heavy rain – or in the most recent instance, when there is steady precipitation over a prolonged period of time. Flooding also made the humane society’s parking lot inaccessible for smaller vehicles.
Red Cross shelter open
In addition to many areas where roads flooded on Grand Cayman, several areas had homes flooded as well. Two people – one in Windsor Park and one in Prospect Park – had to seek shelter at the Cayman Islands Red Cross because of flooding in their homes. Others affected sought shelter with relatives or friends.
Even though both of the people who sought shelter at the Cayman Islands Red Cross returned to their homes by Tuesday morning, shelter manager Marsha Thompson said the Red Cross stands ready to assist.
“We’re still open in case the weather worsens and if anyone needs us, we’re here,” she said.
With the exception of some older students who had to sit external exams, government schools were closed Tuesday in Grand Cayman. Cayman Brac schools remained open.
Minister Rolston Anglin made the decision to close the public schools Monday afternoon.
A number of private schools announced they would also close Tuesday. Those included: First Baptist, Cayman Prep and High, and Cayman International School. Students at Cayman Prep who had to sit external examinations were still meant to attend.
In addition, Wesleyan Academy, Montessori Del Sol, Grace Christian Academy, Hope Academy, Miss Jackie’s School of Dance, Shining Stars, the Sunrise Adult Training/Learning Centre and Triple C were all closed Tuesday.
Tourism takes hit
Heavy rain and occasional flooding had various effects on the tourism industry.
At the Westin Casuarina Resort & Spa, Executive Assistant General Manager Michael Broderick noted the impact of the deluge.
“Due to the heavy rain and strong winds, a number of rooms got wet carpets from rain being forced under the doors. In addition, the roads in front of the resort was flooded and a few cars had trouble going through the high water,” he said.
The water sports industry was also affected by the rain, Ronnie Anglin of Captain Marvin’s told the Compass.
“We … cancelled all of our trips yesterday. Our tours are dependent on weather conditions so when it’s like it was yesterday, there’s nothing we can do.”
Rod McDowall of Red Sail Sports said that while the company had not experienced any issues with flooding, the sheer quantity of the rain had closed down most activities including those based on the beach, catamarans and diving.
Although Eden Rock reported car park flooding, diving continued despite the land side conditions. Ken Thompson of Sunset House summed up the mood of the dive fraternity.
“There were no issues with the hotel or our divers over the weekend. Business as usual and the guests never missed a dive, plus they had a free fresh water rinse.”
Monday’s heavy rains and strong winds led to the cancellation of flights to and from Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, leaving some guests stranded on the Sister Islands overnight. Jets cannot land on the small runway at the Edward Bodden Airfield in Little Cayman, so the cancellation of the Twin Otter flights meant no one could fly in or out of Little Cayman.
Staff at the Little Cayman Beach Resort reported that guests staying in two of their condos and in two hotel rooms had to stay an extra night, but were flown to the Brac on Tuesday morning to transfer to the jet that would take them to Grand Cayman.
At Southern Cross, a couple from Grand Cayman were the only guests scheduled to fly out on Monday and so they stayed an extra day. Another guest, due to check in Monday, was unable to make the trip due to the cancelled flights and instead was expected to arrive Tuesday.
Guests flying to Grand Cayman from Cayman Brac on Monday morning were able to take the scheduled Cayman Airways jet flight, but the airline did not fly its Cayman Airways Express Twin Otter planes that were scheduled to fly on Tuesday.
Passengers on board an American Airlines flight from Miami to Grand Cayman also fell victim to the stormy weather, as the flight diverted to Jamaica due to decreased visibility.
Tim Smith, a spokesman for American Airlines, said the flight, which was scheduled to land in Cayman at 12.15pm, diverted to Montego Bay where it refuelled and eventually made its way to the Owen Roberts International Airport in Grand Cayman where it landed at 5.13pm.
“The weather was causing a lot of visibility problems at the time the flight was coming in to land, so it diverted to Montego Bay where it waited for the weather to improve,” Mr. Smith said.
Restaurants, cruisers sunk
Restaurants reported a lack of business due to the storm as well. “No one was out and about [Monday] night,” said Chris Redlund, general manager of Margaritaville. “A [cruise] ship cancelled [Tuesday] because of [the storm].”
That ship was the Carnival Destiny, capable of carrying 2,642 passengers and 1,040 crew if full, explained Port Authority Manager of Cruise Operations and Security Joseph Woods.
“Carnival Destiny arrived in the harbour, but decided to cancel their call,” said Mr. Woods.
Markus Mueri, a partner in nm Ventures which owns four restaurants, said the company had monitored the situation carefully and was happy to report that none of its restaurants had suffered any water damage. He said the conditions had served to reiterate the need to plan for the possibility of unsettled weather in the months ahead.
“The rain certainly was a good indication of how we need to prepare ourselves for the hurricane season,” he said. “I sincerely hope that everybody learned from this weekend and takes the necessary steps to fix leaks etcetera.”
Cayman Free Press journalists Patrick Brendel, Joe Shooman, Eugene Bonthuys, Brent Fuller and Norma Connolly contributed to this story.