St martin: Weather Overview

Saturday 22 July
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About St martin

About St martin

St Martin, or St Maarten, is one of the chain of lesser Antilles that curve up from the Venezuelan coast of South America to the start of the Greater Antilles that sweep past the southern tip of Florida and in towards Mexico. The islands are of volcanic origin and as such are mountainous and highly fertile. St Martin is one of the Windward Islands, situated just south of Anguilla and north of St Kitts and Nevis. With the North Atlantic Ocean to its northeast and the Caribbean Sea to its southwest, St Martin enjoys a marine sub-tropical climate with high temperatures and moderate rainfall. The consistently high temperatures are hot in the dry winter season and hotter in the wet summer season. However, rainfall is erratic from year to year and sometimes does not stick to the usually wet in wet season/drier in dry season pattern. Many things combine to create regional variation in weather conditions on the island: wind direction, topography and the differences between the Caribbean and the Atlantic. As with all Caribbean Islands St Martin is susceptible to hurricanes; September is the month of greatest risk. Cooler temperatures and even misty conditions can be found at higher elevations throughout the year, as might be expected.

The dry season, from January till May, is the most popular time of year to visit the island for obvious reasons; rainfall is low, humidity is lessened and it is ever-so-slightly cooler. The average high temperature in this season is around 29°C and the average low is around 23°C. Humidity might be lower but this is a tropical island; it is hot and sticky and anyone not used to these conditions is bound to take a while to acclimatise. Luckily, the island is in the path of northeast trade winds that blow throughout the year and help to make things a little bit more comfortable. Trade winds are no substitute for air-conditioning, however, which it is pretty much impossible to sleep without. It is generally slightly cooler, wetter and windier on the northeast Atlantic where the wind first comes in. Plenty of sunshine allows for endless days on the island’s many white beaches. Rainfall is low; but again this is a tropical island and it can never be ruled out. A short but heavy storm is bound to break every now and again: a small inconvenience or a dramatic interlude, whichever way you chose to look at it.

The strong winds and clear skies create fantastic sailing and windsurfing conditions – best from December till April. Calmer seas make for better visibility for scuba diving and snorkelling, though suitable conditions can be found all year. The Caribbean is calmer and warmer than the Atlantic so beaches on the southwest coast are less rugged with better diving conditions, while the northeast coast presents the opportunity for more challenging windsurfing and also big game fishing. The big game tournament season lasts from April till September to coincide with the migration period. The sport is becoming friendlier with the recent emergence of tag-and-release fishing, though clearly being stabbed through the cheek and dragged by your wound to suffocate for a while can still be a little traumatising. However, the tag-and-release system is helping marine-biologists to better understand fish migratory patterns.

The wet season, from June till December, is a slightly more extreme version of the dry season: basically the same just a little bit more of everything. It is slightly hotter, with an average high of 31°C, quite a bit more humid, and much wetter. It coincides with hurricane season, from June till November, so storms can often be violent and the sea can sometimes become unnavigable. The chance of a hurricane increases to a peak in September, and while they are generally quite rare, travel to the area should be preceded by some research into current hurricane activity. Rainfall is not immensely high by tropical standards, but storms are still frequent. It remains sunny most of the time as unpleasant weather usually sets in and clears up with great haste. Again, the great majority of the rain is received by the eastern side, especially mountain slopes. The mountains act as a barrier to the humid winds, keeping the west side much drier.

The varied topography and resultant microclimates have lead to a diverse landscape. While it is mostly mountainous, the west side is home to some lowlands. On St Martin you will find flawless beaches, tropical rainforest, dry rainforest, mangrove swamps, inland lagoons and grassy plains. Underwater, fed by the Gulf Stream, an extensive coral system thrives. These many habitats are home to a great variety of animals that depend on the stability of their environment for survival. Development onto marshland is a particular worry for many rare species found in the area.

White sand, turquoise water and palm trees are certainly prerequisites of the island paradise and St Martin has all three. However, this oasis of calm has not been forgotten by civilisation; it is heavily developed and relies on its tourist industry for its income. Resorts, casinos and shopping malls are all to be found here. It is a busy port, a regular stop on luxury cruises. The Dutch side is more mass-market with bargain-hunters flocking to Philipsburg, while on the French side Marigot’s is home to couture boutiques. The whole island is a duty-free zone.

The island is half French and half Dutch; France owns the windward, Atlantic side and the Caribbean side is part of the Netherlands Antilles. The two authorities have maintained peaceful, cooperative relations since the island was first divvied up in 1948. A rather cutesy, and potentially offensive, legend exists about how the division of the land was drawn up: A Dutch man and a French man were set walking in opposite directions around the coast of the island, starting from the same point; the point at which they met made the other end of the dividing line. And so why is the French side larger than the Dutch side? Because the French were, are and always will be, sophisticated wine drinkers while the Dutch were, are and always will be, boozy beerhounds, of course. The logic being that wine is synonymous with some kind of elixir of life and the French walker was leant speed and virility by a sip or two of this divine nectar, while beer is enervating and the pint-guzzling Dutch walker was made slothful, dragging his feet in the sand towards the shifting finish line. Is this even partially true? Who knows? The island’s success as a tourist destination has lead to a proliferation of tourism-motivated literature that touts this story as history.

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