In this post, I wanted to cover what we’ve learned about the climate in Puerto Rico. It shouldn’t be a surprise that an important part of picking a new home is knowing what you can expect for weather conditions.
In this post, I’ll be looking at the climate in Puerto Rico as i want to gather some data so Joanna and I know what we can expect for weather if and when we move there.
I’ll start with the geography of the island and work my way through the topology, temperature, precipitation, and I’ll finish up with storms the island has experienced (because being from the Midwest, hurricanes freak me out a little bit).
Climate in Puerto Rico: Geography
In case you’ve never looked up where Puerto Rico is on the map, the island is located on the north-eastern edge of the Caribbean Sea. It sits about 100 km (61 mi) east of the Dominican Republic and about 1,600 km (1,000 miles) southeast of Miami, Florida.
(Click for larger version – From Google Maps)
With an area of 9,293 sq km (3,515 sq mi), Puerto Rico is the third largest island in the United States behind the Big Island in Hawaii and Kodiak Island in Alaska. Puerto Rico is almost rectangular in shape, on average about 160 km (100 mi) long by 65 km (40 mi) wide. It consists of the main island of Puerto Rico and several smaller islands, such as Vieques and Culebra.
The island has approximately 580 km (360 mi) of coastline, and if the islands of Vieques and Culebra are included the coast increases to approximately 700 km (434 mi).
- Location: Latitude, 18° 15″ N – Longitude, 66° 30″ W
- Total Area (Puerto Rico): 9,293 sq km (3,515 mi)
- Maximum Length from east to west: 180 km (110 mi)
- Maximum Width from north to south: 65 km (40 mi).
Climate in Puerto Rico: Topography
As you might expect, the terrain of a region can affect the weather and climate. The Island of Puerto Rico is no different. However, it is unusual to find so many different terrains and climate types in such a small island. In the map below, you can see the diverse topology the island offers.
(Click for a much, much larger version – From Wikipedia)
The Cordillera Central is a wide belt of mountains which extends across the middle and southern portion of the island and is really the main topological feature responsible for the diversity of local climates on different parts of the island. By effectively splitting the island in half the result is the southern parts of the island experiencing more desert-like weather conditions, while others have temperate weather, and still others can be considered rain forests.
Below is a map that shows the soil moisture averages of different regions and indicates the type of climate you’ll find in each (drier areas will be more like desert and wetter areas more like rain forest).
(Click for a larger version – From Wikipedia)
The island’s highest peak, Cerro de Punta, sits in the southern middle part of the island (near Ponce) and rises up to 1,338 m (4,389 feet) above sea level. Coastal plains to the north and south run parallel to the mountains, with the southern plains narrower than the northern.
For us, it means we have choices. We can live in a hot tropical paradise, a (near) desert, rain forest, or a temperate mountain area. Better yet, all of those places are within a few hours drive of each other, so we can pick what’s really comfortable to us for day to day living but can still take short trips to the others depending on our mood.
Climate in Puerto Rico: Temperatures
OK, I’ll warn you here, while I’ve been trying to do primarily metric values for most of this post, I still haven’t gotten the hang on the Celsius scale so, it’s all Fahrenheit, baby…
On average, little difference exists between winter and summer temperatures. On the coast, expect daytime highs in the low 80’s and overnight lows near 70 during the winter months, and highs in the upper 80’s with lows in the mid-70’s in the summer.
To help you visualize what you can expect for the temperatures on the island, below is a map representing the average low temperatures in October for the island between 1981 and 2010.
(Click for a larger version – From NOAA)
As expected, temperatures decrease with altitude, and can be (on average) up to 5 to 15 degrees cooler in the mountains.
Believe it or not, despite its tropical location, the record high anywhere on the island of Puerto Rico is only 104.7 degrees. This puts its “hottest day” lower than many of the record highs in the continental US.
It also doesn’t get cold enough to snow in Puerto Rico. The record low temperature was 39 degrees, and that was high in the central mountains.
For us, this means we can find a nice spot that’s not too hot nor too cold.
Climate in Puerto Rico: Precipitation
Although Puerto Rico’s rainy season isn’t as pronounced as that of many of the other tropical islands in the Caribbean, more rain does fall during the period from May to November compared to the winter and early spring.
Typically rain occurs in short bursts, usually lasting no more than an hour or two. Of course, there will be exceptions for tropical storms.
(Click for larger version – From NOAA)
Puerto Rico’s southern coast is the driest area, with some places receiving as little as 90 cm (36 in) of rain a year. This creates a desert-like climate in those places. Droughts sometimes occur here, usually in February and March.
On the other hand, the central mountains can receive up to 500 cm (200 in) of rain per year. The wettest part of the island is the El Yunque rain forest in the northeast of the island.
Climate in Puerto Rico: Hurricanes and Tropical Storms
Although hurricane season in the Atlantic officially begins on the first on June 1st and ends on November 30th, tropical storms may occasionally form in May and January. The hurricane season peaks in mid-September, with the worst storms most likely to arise between August and October.
If you’re like us and are a little worried about moving into the potential path of hurricanes, you don’t need to worry about it too much. Direct hits from storms are fairly rare on the island.
On average, they only hit the island once every 11 years and only one Category 5 hurricane has hit the island since 1851 (the Lake Okeechobee Hurricane in September 1928). Below is a chart of the “worst” hurricanes and tropical storms that have hit Puerto Rico as determined by total rainfall (sorted by year).
|23||San Ciriaco hurricane||1899|
|41.68||T. D. #19||1970|
They are much more likely to skirt the island. As a result, they bring drenching rain but not the devastating winds or powerful storm surges so characteristic of hurricanes.
You can find some more information on the Hurricanes and tropical storms that have hit on or around Puerto Rico HERE.
We really like the variety in climate that can be found on the island. If we retire there, our current plan is to live in the mountains where it’s nice and cool (to keep the AC bills down) and make weekly day trips to the beach to soak up all of the wonderful tropical sunshine.