The Virgin Islands are an archipelago of more than 100 islands
and cays (see Glossary) located about 95 kilometers east of Puerto
Rico. The islands are politically divided into two units: the
United States Virgin Islands on the west and the British Virgin
Islands on the east. With a total area of 153 square kilometers,
the British islands are slightly smaller than Washington, D.C., and
fall into four groups: an archipelago of small islands that run
southwest-northeast and end with Virgin Gorda on the east; a
central group containing Tortola, the largest of the British Virgin
Islands; a western group that includes the island of Jost Van Dyke
and surrounding smaller cays; and Anegada, forty-eight kilometers
northeast of Virgin Gorda.
With the exception of Anegada, all of the islands are hilly or
mountainous and are volcanic in origin. Slopes are rugged and rise
steeply from the sea. The highest point is Tortola's Mount Sage, at
543 meters. Bare outcroppings are common, and the islands have no
permanent streams. Anegada, geologically distinct from the other
islands, is a flat coral island composed of limestone. The soil on
all the islands is poor, consisting mostly of brown loam of
volcanic origin. Anegada has little soil at all.
The British Virgin Islands' climate is tropical with a
pronounced rainy season from May through November. The rain falls
in short, heavy showers and averages about 125 centimeters per
year. Despite the moderate rainfall, porous soils and high
evaporation rates allow for only xerophytic types of vegetation,
that is, plants that survive in dry, hot climates. Temperatures are
fairly constant, ranging from summer maximums of 31°C to winter
minimums of 20°C. Trade winds are constant, blowing from the
northeast in winter and from the southeast in summer. Hurricanes
strike occasionally from June to November.
Anguilla, in the northern Leeward Islands, lies 240 kilometers
due east of Puerto Rico and 8 kilometers from St. Martin/Sint
Maarten, the nearest of the Leeward Islands to the south. Anguilla
is twenty-six kilometers long and six kilometers wide, at ninetyone square kilometers about half the size of Washington, D.C. It is
a flat coral island, with its highest point only sixty-five meters
above sea level. Scrub Island, five square kilometers in area, lies
just off Anguilla's northeast end. Dog Island, smaller than Scrub
Island, lies to the northwest, as do several small cays.
Anguilla's climate is tropical, with little seasonal variation.
Temperatures range from 22°C to 30°C. Rainfall is low,
100 centimeters annually, with substantial variation from year to
year. Hurricanes are a threat in the summer or fall. The scant
rainfall and poor soil allow for only low scrub vegetation.
The small, rugged island of Montserrat is 43 kilometers
southwest of Antigua and 70 kilometers northwest of Guadeloupe.
Only 11 kilometers by 18 kilometers, the pear-shaped island has an
area of 102 square kilometers. Of volcanic origin, Montserrat has
active sulfur vents in the mountainous south-central section. The
island itself has a narrow coastal plain that rises steeply to
several peaks, the highest of which, Chance Peak, reaches 915
meters. Much of central Montserrat is covered by tropical rain
forest, probably the reason the island is popularly known as "the
Montserrat has a tropical climate with little seasonal
variation; temperatures range from 22°C to 31°C. Rainfall
plentiful, ranging from 170 centimeters on the windward northeast
slopes to 125 centimeters on the leeward southwest coastal areas.
Hurricanes can strike during the summer or fall.
Data as of November 1987