The Caribbean Islands and other tropical destinations are travel hot spots for their enjoyable weather and relaxing beaches, but they are also a popular spot for hurricanes during the summer and fall.
Discover where to stay for a beach destination with less threat to hurricanes. Become an expert on the science behind hurricanes and the terminology used to identify them. Also, consider these tips for travel during hurricane season to ensure you’re prepared for a weather emergency.
Hurricane Fast Facts
- The word hurricane comes from the Taino Native American word hurucane meaning “evil spirit of the wind.”
- Hurricanes are commonly known as typhoons in the Pacific Ocean. (They are commonly referred to as tropical cyclones in the Indian Ocean.)
- The first time anyone flew into a hurricane was in 1943 in the middle of World War II.
- A hurricane on the planet Jupiter has been going on for over 300 years. It can be viewed as a red spot on the planet.
- There is an average of 12 hurricanes per year in the Atlantic Basin (the most frequented hurricane region).
- Storms are identified by a list of rotating names maintained by the World Meteorological Organization.
What Really Is a Hurricane?
A hurricane, also known as a tropical cyclone, is a “rotating low-pressure weather system that has organized thunderstorms but no fronts (a boundary separating two air masses of different densities),” according to the National Ocean Service.
There are three types of tropical cyclones:
- Tropical Depression – A tropical cyclone with maximum sustained surface winds of less than 39 mph
- Tropical Storm – A tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of 39 mph or higher
- Hurricane – A tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of 74 mph
Where Do Hurricanes Most Commonly Occur?
Hurricanes usually occur in areas with a warm and moist atmosphere over tropical ocean waters. They originate in one of three locations:
- The Atlantic Basin (Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico)
- The Eastern Pacific Ocean
- The Central Pacific Ocean (less frequently)
Hurricanes are most common during the hurricane season, though they can happen any time of the year.
- Atlantic Hurricane Season: June 1st – November 30th
- Eastern Pacific Hurricane Season: May 15th – November 30th
- Central Pacific Hurricane Season: June 1st – November 30th
Hurricane season typically peaks between August and October, so be extra vigilant when traveling to tropical destinations during these times.
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale
The National Hurricane Center and Central Pacific Hurricane Center uses as scale known as the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale to measure hurricanes. This is a 1-5 rating based on a hurricane’s sustained wind speed in order to estimate the potential property damage.
Consider the rating system to determine your response to a hurricane.
- Category 1 (74-95 mph sustained winds) – Very dangerous winds will produce some damage.
- Category 2 (96-110 mph sustained winds) – Extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage.
- Category 3 (111-129 mph sustained winds) – Devastating damage will occur.
- Category 4 (130 – 156 mph sustained winds) – Catastrophic damage will occur.
- Category 5 (157 or higher sustained winds) – Catastrophic damage will occur.
Advisory vs Watch vs Warning
Sources providing information regarding hurricanes, like news reports and weather apps, will often use terms like “advisory,” “watch,” or “warning” to describe the current weather situation for a location.
Here is what each of those terms means:
- Advisory – Conditions are expected to cause significant inconvenience that may be hazardous (should not be life-threatening if caution is used).
- Watch – A tropical storm or hurricane is possible within 48 hours.
- Warning – A tropical storm or hurricane is expected within 36 hours.
How Can a Hurricane Impact My Travel?
Hurricanes, like other natural disasters and severe weather conditions, can often impact travel plans.
Major Hazards Caused by Hurricanes
Hurricanes can pose a risk to travelers staying in destinations where a hurricane is intended to hit. Major hazards associated with hurricanes include storm surges, heavy rainfall, inland flooding, high winds, rip currents, and tornados.
Power outages and impacts to other utilities are very likely during hurricanes, as strong winds pull down power lines and damage buildings and homes.
Inconveniences Caused by Hurricanes
Delays or cancellations of flights or cruises are common for destinations predicted to be impacted by a hurricane.
Public transportation and other commuter travel may be delayed prior to a storm due to an influx of people leaving an at-risk area. Transportation may be damaged, closed, or delayed during the storm as well.
Accommodations, restaurants, and tourist attractions may close in preparation for severe weather. Damage to these attractions can lead to extended closures.
Best Beach Vacation Destinations During the Hurricane Season
Not every beach destination is doomed to be impacted by hurricanes. Those wishing to travel to the sunny tropics during the hurricane season can consider these destinations, which are less likely to be impacted by hurricanes.
The “ABC” Islands (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao)
Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao are the western-most islands of the Leeward Antilles in the Caribbean. Commonly referred to as the ABC Islands, they are considered safer Caribbean destinations during the hurricane season because there is only about one hurricane every 30 years.
The last hurricane to hit Aruba was Hurricane Felix in 2007. This Level 2 hurricane only caused minor damage, including a small number of uprooted palm trees, some beach erosion, and other damages you could attribute to a bad rainstorm. Aruba’s local authorities also have a good track record of informing locals and visitors of any hurricane risks.
Direct hurricane hits to Bonaire are also uncommon. It, too, only experienced minor damage from Hurricane Felix. The most damage was found in the coral reefs as surveyed by local marine park workers. Bonaire prides itself on its nature preservation and conservation.
Though the island doesn’t often take a direct hit from hurricanes, it makes every effort to protect its vulnerable wildlife from even the smallest of storms.
The last time a hurricane directly hit Curaçao was 1877. Other nearby hurricanes have only caused flooding. The island tends to get warmer during the hurricane season with less wind, but this is also a reason why hurricanes are infrequent.
Curaçao offers more urban scenery, while Aruba and Bonaire have a more traditional island feel. All three islands feature miles of sandy beaches with hotels, resorts, and restaurants.
Another country south of the hurricane belt in the tropics, Panama boasts long stretches of coast on the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea.
Though the country sees few hurricanes, the summer and fall are considered the wet season. This means brief rain showers in the afternoon are typical (as is the case for many tropical destinations).
Panama has no known history of hurricanes. The storm closest to a hurricane was Hurricane Martha, which dropped from a category 1 hurricane to a tropical storm before making landfall in 1969. The storm brought no significant damage to the country. It remains the closest call in Panama’s history.
Though the islands of Hawaii sit in the central Pacific where multiple hurricanes appear each year, rarely do they impact this nation. Only a few hurricanes on record have directly hit the Hawaiian Islands, while most tend to lose strength beforehand.
Hawaii's pleasant weather all year long attracts both national and international travel. High-end accommodations have recently populated the island, but many affordable options remain for travelers not wanting to push their budget too far.
The Yucatan Peninsula and other Mexican regions on the Gulf of Mexico see frequent hurricanes, but the west coast is considered generally safe. Mexica’s west coast has cooler water temperatures, making it less susceptible to hurricanes. (Hurricanes almost always form over water warmer than 80 degrees F.)
Mexico offers many popular beach destinations on its western coast, including Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Acupulco, Huatulco, and Iztapa.
Tips for Traveling During the Hurricane Season
Those traveling in and around the tropics during the hurricane season need to take extra precaution to ensure their safety during their travels. Consider these tips when planning your trip.
- Avoid Destinations with Frequent Hurricanes – The most effective way to stay safe from hurricanes is to avoid destinations with frequent hurricanes during the hurricane season. Consider places like the ABC Islands in the southern part of the Caribbean or other destinations that don’t see many hurricanes.
- Pack a Thoughtful Carry On – Think carefully about the items you pack in your carry on when traveling to an area frequented by hurricanes. It may be wise to ensure you have all your essentials in case your checked luggage is delayed or lost due to airline cancellations because of weather.
- Pack Emergency Supplies – Bring a first aid kit, a battery-operated radio, flashlights, and cash in the local currency to prepare for potential emergencies in your destination.
- Purchase Travel Insurance – Consider purchasing trip cancellation insurance before jetting off to a destination that is frequented by hurricanes. Keep in mind many insurance policies do not provide cancellation coverage if you purchase after a hurricane has already been identified.
- Research Evacuation Procedures – Ask your accommodations management about evacuation procedures and other safety procedures put in place during inclement weather. Also, keep an eye out for regional evacuation recommendations or requirements by state or local governments.
- Check Weather Reports Regularly – Stay up to date on local weather and weather predictions so you can make more informed decisions.
- Check in with Loved Ones as Regularly as Possible – If a hurricane is headed for your destination, keep your loved ones at ease by checking in regularly. Also warn them that damaged phone and electricity lines from a hurricane may mean delays in contact.
How to Stay Informed
Up to date information will allow you to make the best decisions while traveling. Consider these three sources for accurate and updated information on hurricanes and how they may affect your travel.
- FEMA App – This app provides real-time alerts from the National Weather service, locations for open emergency centers and recovery centers, and more.
- Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) – U.S. citizens can enroll in STEP to receive relevant and accurate information about safety conditions in your area. (It’s also an easy way for the U.S. Embassy or Consulate to get in touch with you during an emergency.)
- Airline Apps – Most major airlines have apps travelers can download to receive information on travel delays and cancellations right to their phones.
Benefits to Look for in Your Travel Insurance
Those wanting to protect their travel investment should consider purchasing a travel insurance policy. A travel insurance policy can provide financial reimbursement for a canceled trip and travel assistance in the case of unforeseen weather emergencies like a hurricane.
REMEMBER! Many insurance policies do not provide cancellation coverage if you purchase after a hurricane has already been identified. Check the National Hurricane Center website for accurate and updated information on new hurricanes and their potential path of impact.
Look for these benefits in your travel insurance plan:
- Trip Cancellation – This benefit can provide reimbursement if you are prevented from taking your trip due to a covered unforeseen reason, like a sickness or injury or your airline halting services due to inclement weather in your destination.
- Trip Interruption – This benefit can provide reimbursement if you have to cut your trip short and return home due to a covered reason, like a health emergency or a family member at home unexpectedly passing away.
- Baggage/Personal Effects – This benefit can provide reimbursement for lost or stolen luggage while on your trip.
- Emergency Medical Evacuation – This benefit can cover the cost of transporting you to the nearest adequate health facility for medically necessary treatment.
- Emergency Medical Expense – This benefit can cover you for unexpected medical expenses resulting from a covered injury or illness during your trip.
Consider a Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) Benefit
Worried about something happening that forces you to cancel your trip? Consider adding a Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) benefit to your travel insurance plan. The CFAR benefit reimburses you for a portion of your prepaid expenses if you must cancel your trip for any reason not otherwise covered by your plan. Many travel insurance policies provide this coverage as an optional upgrade. Keep in mind, there is often a timeframe stipulation for this coverage.
Atlas Enterprise travel insurance offers an optional CFAR benefit upgrade. This coverage applies to cancelations two days or more before your scheduled departure date. The CFAR benefit will reimburse you for 75% of your pre-paid non-refundable expenses (accommodations, airfare, etc.) in the event you cancel for a reason not otherwise covered by your plan. You must purchase the Atlas Enterprise plan within 21 days of your initial trip payment to be eligible for the CFAR benefit.
Prepare for the Unpredictable
Hurricanes can be dangerous and unpredictable. They can veer off course and cause a serious threat to those who thought they were in the clear.
Prepare for the unexpected and be aware of potential weather threats when traveling to a tropical destination so you can make the best decisions for you and your fellow travelers.