Here’s a post I saw on the Abaco Forum the other day: “Hi, we’re coming down for a week in April. What kind of weather can we expect, how’s the water temp?” Let’s ask this question to two folks who visited Abaco during the same week last year.
Tula and her husband Rob were first-time Abaco visitors. They live in Omaha, and when they vacation they usually spend time with family in the Midwest. They once did a week in Orlando visiting theme parks, and two years ago they took a three-week cruise from Seattle to Alaska. They have friends who have been to Abaco; they saw their pictures and videos, heard their stories, and decided to try something different. They wound up renting a condo in Treasure Cay, and they loved the experience. Here is Tula on the weather:
“Oh, it was wonderful, so warm, sunny most of the time. I often sat on that gorgeous beach, there was always a nice breeze, it was even a little windy at times, but that’s OK. One day we took the ferry over to Guana Cay. It was stormy and it rained, I was a little frightened, and I started to get seasick, but after we got there I felt better. We sat in a cute little bar on the beach while it rained, then we walked around and saw the community. The ride back on the ferry wasn’t so bad. I went swimming several times, the water was great, very refreshing, I’ve never seen water so clear.”
Dan and his wife Connie were also Abaco first-timers. They live in Pensacola, they have a 23-foot boat, and they love to fish and explore. They have trailed the boat to the Keys several times, but they have always wanted to “go to the Bahamas,” so last year they finally did it. Dan found the Abaco Forum and became an instant addict. He read all the articles, bought a copy of Dodge, and asked questions about where and how to fish and dive. He and Connie anticipated this as the “trip of a lifetime:” they bought new cameras, fishing tackle, clothes, the works. They likewise reserved a condo at Treasure Cay, as well as a rental 22-foot center console. Unfortunately, they hardly got to use it, or any of the toys they had brought. Dan laments:
“It was a blowout, the entire week was a blowout. It was cloudy and very windy, as in 20-25 knots every day. We tried to get out onto the Sea of Abaco each morning, and we always had to come right back to the marina, it was really rough. We never got close to a reef. The water was cold, maybe 74 degrees, we should have brought wetsuits, but then we wouldn’t have been able to use them. It rained all day for two of our seven days, we were bored out of our gourds. When I think of the money I spent on this trip, it makes me sick; I’m not sure I’ll ever go back.”
Had Dan come during either of the following two weeks, he would have found light winds and fair skies on five of the seven days, and 76-degree water. A week later it was blowing again.
In October ’03, we spent four days in Abaco; two of those days were stunning, two were rainy/windy/nasty. In January ’99 we spent four days, and it was very sunny but very windy. In June ’02 we sustained 10 inches of rain in eleven days. During the first week of September ’99 we had absolutely perfect weather; the following week Hurricane Floyd devastated the area.
The point is this: during a week in any given month or season, you may find a range of weather conditions, varying from warm, sunny, and calm, to windy, rainy, and nasty. In addition, how a person perceives air and water temperatures is very much a function of their personal experiences and tolerances, as well as their expectations and planned activities. Folks from New England will love March’s 74-degree water; those from Florida will want a wetsuit. Visitors who plan to spend substantial time on the water will be less tolerant of rainy/windy conditions than those who are primarily land-based.
You also learn to take the good with the bad: yes, it’s hot in August, but the winds are typically light and you can do a lot of “easy” boating. It can be very windy in the winter months, but often you find delightful moderate temperatures, and when the wind does lay down you’ll get some of the nicest days of the year.
This graph (from Go-Abaco’s web site) lists average monthly high and low air temperatures, as well as average water temperatures and monthly rainfall:
Take this information with a grain of salt: these are averages, and you may encounter a better than- or worse-than-average week.
We all want perfect weather for our vacation. Sometimes we get it, sometimes we don’t. Pay attention to the Forum and the Marsh Harbour weather forecast for a week or so prior to your arrival, so you’ll have some idea of what to expect. Go ahead and reserve a boat; if you don’t and you find good weather and no available boats, you’ll be very disappointed. We always bring what boaters call “foul weather gear:” a sturdy hooded raincoat that will enable us to get out even if the weather is nasty. Have a backup plan in mind for weather days: a day-trip in a car, a shopping trip, a good book, a seat on a bar stool, whatever. You’re on vacation, don’t let a little wind or rain get you down.
There is one other issue to consider: Abaco is a "region," and within the roughly 30 nm from Green Turtle to Little Harbour the weather can significantly vary. You might see a heavy thunderstorm over Marsh Harbour, while it can be bone dry on Guana Cay. Great Abaco Island gets a lot more rain than do the offshore cays. In the summer the squalls typically move north or northwest on the prevailing south or southeast breeze, and they can dissipate as they move. So it's not unusual to hear someone say, "Barometer Bob was really wrong today, our weather at Treasure Cay was terrible, rainy, windy nasty." And the response will be, "Are you kidding, he was right on the money, it was gorgeous down in the Pelican Cays." So, in a way, you are somewhat responsible for your own local forecast.
When you get up in the morning, listen to the weather forecast on Cruiser's Net at 8:20 or 9 AM, then step outside and have a look. Where is the good weather, which way is it moving, will that cloud cover burn off? After a while you'll get a feel for how the local weather forms and evolves, and this skill can really help you plan a successful day when the weather otherwise might have closed you out. I can't tell you how many days we have salvaged that looked like a lost cause because we found a hole in bad weather, or we burned a few morning hours until the weather cleared. Figure the wind, then find a beach or another place to play that's sheltered. If you would like a more technical, if somewhat tongue-in-cheek, explanation of the factors that affect Abaco's weather, check out our guru SamFamAustin's analysis:
Abaco's Weather from a Visitor's Perspective
Let's start at 30,000 feet, literally. Way off to the northeast of the Bahamas you have the Bermuda High, a massive pool of clockwise circulating air in the Atlantic - an important thing to watch as it drifts because it can steer giant hurricanes.
Off to the west an Upper Level Low often forms, a pool of air rotating counterclockwise. OK, class, look north and make counterclockwise circles with your left hand, and clockwise circles in your right hand - I don't suggest this whilst into a bunch of Kaliks, so be careful.
You might notice that this can leading to a "scrunching effect" right in front of you, which will create a trough if you will, something I like to call Forecaster's Cleavage.
Often that trough persists for months in the spring wet season. But there's more. You need some moisture in the mid-levels of the atmosphere, and a trigger in the lower layers closer to the ground to a few thousand feet in the air (the mixing layer, which pilots know about). The "moisture conveyor belt" is typically from the Subtropical Jetstream that crosses Central America and ducts over a wide path that may form monsoons in Arizona, floods in Texas, or persistent rain in Florida and the Bahamas. Sometimes this is real easy to see on the satellite graphics, flowing like an arrow in a northeast direction, from the southwest.
The remaining part of the puzzle are cold fronts. The cold fronts wash down from the Rockies and in the spring can lead to huge tornadoes in the Central US, Texas, and Florida, before washing out. They often wash out right over or just east of the Bahamas, setting up a zone of occluded or highly "frazzled" weather. Most all cold fronts travel as a wave from the northwest to the southeast.
So class, take your left hand and point diagonally to about 2 o'clock. Now with your right hand, reach over your head and pat your left hand with the open palm of your hand. Move both hands from the upper left to the lower right, making little spanky sounds. You'll be a hit at Nippers!
OK, what happens is that both things, the hi and lo pressure cells having decolletage, and the spanking motion of the jetstream and fronts, happening right over Florida and the Bahamas.
The final, fifth ingredient is a weak coastal low-level, low pressure cell that sometimes forms just to the east of the Bahamas. Several early season subtropical storms or even hurricanes have been to form right over this weakness in the atmosphere, along with the other four ingredients. At one time, it looked like a hurricane was forming right over Guana - I forget which year it was, maybe two or three years ago?
As the summer warms, the cool fronts won't be able to work as far south, and things will become more "zonal," or west to east across the northern US. That's when delayed airline travel really affects folks in the Chicago to Boston area, with the large thunderstorms.