Like all Caribbean islands that lie within the Atlantic hurricane belt, Jamaica is quite vulnerable to hurricanes. While the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was one of the most active in history, Jamaica was largely left untouched by hurricanes Irma and Maria, which swept through the Caribbean, killing dozens and causing billions of dollars in damage.
Yet it's important to note that Jamaica has been affected by a half-dozen hurricanes since 2000, either when the outskirts of storms have brushed the island or when a hurricane inflicted a more targeted strike. The last major hurricane to hit Jamaica was Hurricane Sandy in 2012, when the storm roared past the island before causing tremendous devastation in the United States.
Planning a getaway to Jamaica? Here's what you should know about hurricane season.
When is hurricane season? The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30 with the peak period from early August through the end of October. The Atlantic basin includes the entire Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. Hurricanes can, and do, strike in all areas of this body of water.
What does a typical hurricane season look like? Based on historical weather records dating back to 1850, the Atlantic region will typically experience 12 tropical storms with sustained winds of 39 mph, of which six turn into hurricanes with winds reaching 74 mph or greater, and three major hurricanes category 3 or higher with sustained winds of at least 111 mph. It's important to note that the vast majority of these hurricanes do not make landfall in Jamaica.
How often do hurricanes hit Jamaica? A hurricane passes near Jamaica, on average, every four years. A hurricane makes a direct hit on Jamaica every 11 years, on average. Much more common during the summer and fall are tropical storms that do not meet the threshold for a hurricane classification but still bring high winds and potential flooding.
What does it mean for my vacation plans? Statistically, the chances of a hurricane or tropical storm hitting Jamaica during your visit are very slim. Still, there are choices you can make to lower the risk of a hurricane disrupting your vacation.
Note that three out of four hurricanes and tropical storms occur between August and October, with storm activity peaking in early to mid September. Booking a getaway in June, July or November is statistically a safer bet.
If you're traveling during hurricane season, and especially during the peak August-to-October period, you should strongly consider buying travel insurance. Such insurance is inexpensive and will protect your investment should you need to cancel flights or hotel reservations. Be sure to purchase insurance that specifically offers hurricane coverage.
How can I stay on top of hurricane warnings? If you're traveling to a hurricane-prone destination, download the Hurricane app from the American Red Cross for storm updates and a slew of helpful features.
Recap of Hurricane Season 2017
The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was a wildly active, ruthlessly deadly, and extremely destructive season that ranked among most ferocious since records began in 1851. Worse yet, the season was relentless, with all 10 of the season's hurricanes occurring consecutively.
Most forecasters missed the mark, either slightly or significantly underestimating both the number and fury of the storms. Early in the year, forecasters anticipated that an El Niño would develop, lowering storm activity. However, the predicted El Niño failed to develop and instead, cool-neutral conditions developed to create a La Niña for the second year in a row. Some forecasters adjusted their predictions in light of the developments, but none fully comprehended how the season would unfold.
Keep in mind that a typical year brings 12 named storms, six hurricanes, and three major hurricanes. The year 2017 had a significantly above-average season that produced a total of 17 named storms, 10 hurricanes, and six major hurricanes. Here is how forecasters fared with their predictions for the 2017 season.
- NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) slightly underestimated the season, having predicted an "above-normal" season with 11 to 17 named storms, five to nine hurricanes, including two to four major hurricanes.
- Global Weather Oscillations Inc. (GWO) also predicted above-average activity with 16 named storms, eight hurricanes, and four major hurricanes.
- Tropical Storm Risk from the University College London underestimated the ferocity of the season by predicting 14 named storms, six hurricanes, and three major hurricanes.
- The Weather Channel also predicted a normal season, with 12 named storms, six hurricanes, and two major hurricanes.
- North Carolina State University's Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences also missed the mark by predicting a normal hurricane season with 11 to 15 named storms, four to six hurricanes, and one to three major hurricanes.
- Accuweather was way off, having predicted a slightly less active-than-normal season, with 10 named storms, five hurricanes, and three major hurricanes.
- Colorado State University also predicted a year slightly less active than typical, with 11 named storms, four hurricanes, and two major hurricanes.