3 months into hurricane season: TPG’s storm survival guide for travelers
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Editor’s note: This story was updated on Aug. 28, 2021 to reflect the progression of the 2021 hurricane season.
As of today, Aug. 28, New Orleans is currently bracing for Hurricane Ida, which has developed into a Category 4, prompting mandatory evacuations for one area of the city. The tropical storm turned hurricane hit Cuba yesterday, before entering the Gulf of Mexico, poised to hit New Orleans late tomorrow, Aug. 29, the 16-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
According to flight-tracker Flight Aware, eight flights at the Louis Armstrong International Airport (MSY) have been delayed and 36 canceled for Saturday, Aug. 28 and nearly 200 cancellations for Sunday, per local New Orleans NBC station WDSU. A representative from MSY told the outlet that she “expects most, if not all, flights to be canceled tomorrow.” Even so, the airport will remain open and operational. As of Aug. 27., the airport reports Breeze Airways as the only airline to have canceled all of their flights scheduled for Aug. 29-30.
In response to Ida, American, Delta and United all announced waived change fees for flights scheduled Aug. 29-31 traveling through select cities in affected states, including Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
June 1 marked the first day of the 2021 hurricane season and along with it came a prediction by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center concluding that the U.S. is likely to experience an “above average” number of storms this year.
That being said, even one small storm can wreak havoc with your vacation plans, so let’s talk about when hurricanes can get in your way and how to protect the trips you have scheduled.
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Hurricane season outlook for 2021
In June, the NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center noted that “Forecasters predict a 60% chance of an above-normal season, a 30% chance of a near-normal season, and a 10% chance of a below-normal season.”
While that might sound ominous, NOAA’s experts say that 2020 experienced historic levels of storm activity and they don’t expect a reprise of that activity this year.
In its original predictions, meteorologists said they were expecting anywhere from 13 to 20 named storms. A storm must exhibit winds of 39 miles per hour or higher in order to be worthy of a name. Of that batch of storms, six to 10 could become hurricanes with winds of 74 miles per hour or higher. Getting a bit further into the weeds, NOAA says three to five of that group could grow into major Category 3, 4 or 5 hurricanes with winds of 111 miles per hour or more.
NOAA pegged its predictions with a 70% confidence rate.
On Aug. 4, NOAA updated its 2021 predictions just before peak hurricane season, concluding that “atmospheric and oceanic conditions remain conducive for an above-average hurricane season” in its mid-season update, with a 65% probability. NOAA now expects 15 to 21 named storms with winds exceeding 39 miles per hour. Out of those storms, NOAA anticipates seven to 10 hurricanes with winds of 74 miles per hour or greater, including three to five that could evolve into major Category 3, 4 or 5 hurricanes, with winds greater than 111 miles per hour.
NOAA’s updated outlook includes the five named storms that had occurred as of early August, including Elsa, which is now the earliest fifth named storm on record.
“After a record-setting start, the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season does not show any signs of relenting as it enters the peak months ahead,” Rick Spinrad, Ph.D., NOAA administrator, said in a press statement. “NOAA will continue to provide the science and services that are foundational to keeping communities prepared for any threatening storm.”
When is hurricane season?
There are actually two hurricane seasons in the United States. Atlantic hurricane season lasts six months, begins June 1 and ending Nov. 30. Of course, hurricanes can happen outside those dates, but it’s unusual.
While U.S. media tends to focus on hurricanes that form in the Atlantic Ocean, they can happen out in the Pacific, too. Eastern Pacific hurricane season spans from May 15 through Nov. 30. Storms in this region muck up travel to the Mexican Riviera (places such as Los Cabos, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco and Ixtapa).
Hurricanes can hit Hawaii as well, typically between June and the end of November, with storms most likely occurring between July and September.
Storms like this occur in the Southern Hemisphere, too, but they are called cyclones. Peak cyclone season for Australia and New Zealand are the months of March and April.
Is my vacation destination safe from a hurricane?
Atlantic hurricanes can put a damper on vacations to a variety of places. They usually start in the Caribbean, power through toward the Bahamas and then hit the United States. Many storms have smacked into Florida, Louisiana, Alabama and Texas. But anywhere along the East Coast is fair game.
Hurricanes have affected northern destinations such as Cape Hatteras, North Carolina; New York and New Jersey; places in New England and even Canada.
When it comes to the Caribbean, hurricanes are normally stronger in the Eastern Caribbean than points south. If you’re traveling to the Eastern Caribbean from the middle of August to the middle of September, beware. That is peak hurricane season for that area. The Western Caribbean tends to see more storms from mid-September through early November.
Cruise itineraries can be affected by hurricane season too. Here’s everything you need to know about cruising during hurricane season.
Be in the know: Hurricane lingo
If you have vacation plans in the hurricane zone during hurricane season, keep an eye on weather conditions. As your vacation dates approach, check the weather forecast to determine if bad weather may be an issue.
As you watch the news, parse the information through this lens:
- Tropical depression is a weather event that has a sustained surface wind speed of 38 miles per hour or less.
- Tropical storm has winds ranging between 39 and 73 miles per hour.
- Hurricane is a storm with sustained surface winds of 74 miles per hour or more.
- Hurricane warning means sustained winds of 64 knots (74 miles per hour or 119 km/hr) or higher are expected somewhere within the specified area.
- Hurricane watch means sustained winds of 64 knots (74 miles per hour or 119 km/hr) or higher are possible within the specified area.
- Major hurricane is a hurricane that is classified as a Category 3 or higher.
Check out the National Hurricane Center’s glossary of hurricane-related terms.
The trip insurance question
If you do book travel to a destination during hurricane season that could be affected by a storm, consider your protection options. You can pay for third-party travel insurance, rely on credit-card protection or self-insure (decide that the cost of the trip is low enough that if you lose what you paid, you’re OK with the financial loss).
Travel insurance saved the day when a hurricane squashed a trip I had planned to Paris. In my case, the hurricane was bearing down on my home and not my trip destination, but the insurance policy I had purchased allowed me to reschedule the trip. That experience convinced me to always carefully consider my insurance options for every trip.
Here’s TPG’s advice when it comes to selecting travel insurance or sticking with protections that are benefits of the credit cards in your wallet:
- TPG’s comprehensive guide to independent travel insurance — including coronavirus coverage
- The best travel insurance policies and providers
- When to buy travel insurance versus when to rely on credit card protections
- Why you might want to get a premium credit card instead of purchasing travel insurance
- The 9 best credit cards with travel insurance
Just remember that most travel insurance policies don’t cover trip cancellation if you decide to preemptively cancel your trip because the weather forecast looks dismal. In most cases, the storm would need to be named and you would have had to purchase your insurance before the storm got to named status.
If you’re very worried about the possibility of bad weather ruining your trip, buy the cancel for any reason (CFAR) add-on for your insurance policy. While this can be expensive, it might be right for your situation. You can compare trip insurance prices with and without the CFAR add-on at portals such as InsureMyTrip or SquareMouth.
In August alone, the U.S. has seen two named storms thus far, including Henri which started as a hurricane before being downgraded to a tropical depression. It made landfall in Rhode Island on Aug. 23, drenching the Northeast with heavy rainfall and flooding in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.
Just three months into 2021’s hurricane season, NOAA’s predictions seem to be correct. If you live or travel to a destination that’s within the hurricane belt, stay alert and follow conditions on the ground so you can make the best decisions as they relate to your travel plans.
Additional reporting by Caroline Tanner
Featured image by NOAA/Getty Images
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