Hurricane season starts today: TPG’s storm survival guide for travelers
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Today is Tuesday, June 1, and it marks the first day of the 2021 hurricane season.
If the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center is correct, 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
The NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center notes 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 2021, meteorologists are 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 pegs its predictions with a 70% confidence rate.
NOAA’s already mapped out the monikers of any named storms for 2021. Is your name on the list?
Right now, we’re in a wait-and-see mode. In early August, NOAA plans to update its 2021 predictions just before peak hurricane season.
When is hurricane season?
There are actually two hurricane seasons in the United States. Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1 and ends 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 experienced 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 Insure My Trip or SquareMouth.
We’re just entering 2021’s hurricane season and only time will tell if NOAA’s predictions are correct. In the meantime, 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.
Featured image by NOAA/Getty Images
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