Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tradewinds? Passaatwinden? Les Alizés?

Few aspects of Caribbean climate are more romantic than the Tradewinds. Sure, the sunset is probably the classic, preferably seen from a palm-fringed beach, and particularly on a cloudless evening when you have the chance of seeing the Green Flash as the sun disappears over the sea horizon. But as well as their balmy effect on the Caribbean weather, taking the edge off the tropical heat, the Tradewinds have a whimsical aspect that has been known to bring people out in poetry.

It’s worth considering the name itself. You might think that the English /Tradewinds/ would refer rather literally to the seaborne commerce that was so important in the 1700s. In fact the /‘Trade’/ comes from an old English word, /tread/, meaning direction. The winds were used by ship captains to get to the islands and so they were named for this.

Who knows what the Dutch might have had in mind with the strange-sounding /Passaatwinden/, but of course it is those flighty, romantic French who have the most lyrical name for this Caribbean wind. To them, the lumpy old Tradewinds are the /Les Alizés/. You can see why Apollinaire was moved to verse.

The Tradewinds have their effect on the weather of course and even on the land. They cause all the rain and the resulting greenery. They hit the coast off the Atlantic and then rise, water-laden, on the massive slopes, turning into the vast clouds that then dump huge amounts of rainfall. The rain in the Windward Islands is measured in tens of feet per year.

But the oddest effect is in the ABC islands, the Netherlands Leeward Islands, which are so windy sometimes that people walk around a bit like Charlie Chaplin, leaning sideways into the wind. And there is a tree, the /divi divi/, which has given up the ghost and accepted its fate. Instead of growing vertically, at about ten feet it turns at ninety degrees, growing parallel to the ground. Actually it looks like a woman bent downwind at the waist, her shawl and hair blowing on the wind.

For more information about Caribbean winds and weather, check out the Definitive Guide to Caribbean Weather.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Bookmark and Share
Related Posts with Thumbnails