As the Eastern Caribbean Islands, the United States Virgin Islands (USVI)—made up of St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John—are quite vulnerable to hurricanes. And the Atlantic hurricane season in 2018 was the third in a consecutive series of damaging and above-average seasons. So, before you plan your next getaway to the Virgin Islands, make sure to consider the hurricane season by checking with local weather experts.
When Is Hurricane Season?
The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, though the peak period is from the beginning of August through the end of October. The Atlantic basin includes the entire Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico.
What Does a Typical Hurricane Season Look Like?
Historical weather records dating back to 1950 show the Atlantic region will usually experience 12 tropical storms with sustained winds of 39 mph, of which six turn into hurricanes with winds reaching 74 mph or greater. Typically there are also three major hurricanes Category 3 or higher with sustained winds of at least 111 mph. An important note: Most of these hurricanes do not make landfall in the USVI.
How Often Do Hurricanes Hit the USVI?
On average, a hurricane passes near the islands every three years; a hurricane makes a direct hit on the islands, on average, every eight years. Category 5 hurricanes hit USVI in September 2017, when Hurricane Irma hit St. John and St. Thomas, and shortly after, Hurricane Maria landed on St. Croix. It was one of the worst Atlantic hurricane seasons on record.
Before that, the last major hurricanes to land on the islands were Category 3 Hurricane Marilyn in 1995 and Category 4 Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Other hurricanes, such as Category 1 Hurricane Otto in 2010, have been less intense, but still caused significant damage.
What Does It Mean for My Vacation Plans?
The chances of a hurricane or tropical storm taking place on the islands during your visit are very slim, statistically. However, three out of four hurricanes and tropical storms occur between August and October, with storm activity peaking in early to mid-September.
There are things you can do to lower your risk of being in a hurricane during your vacation. If you're planning to vacation in the USVI during hurricane season, and especially the peak period, you might want to consider buying travel insurance that covers hurricanes. Typically, if your trip is canceled or interrupted due to a storm, you can be refunded up to the limit of coverage.
Note that in most cases, insurance must be purchased more than 24 hours before a hurricane is named. Also, many hotels and airlines will offer refunds or a rescheduled itinerary if a hurricane interrupts your planned vacation.
How Can I Stay on Top of Hurricane Warnings?
If you're traveling to a hurricane-prone destination, download the American Red Cross hurricane app for storm updates and many helpful features. You can also follow weather updates from The Weather Channel, Accuweather, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), among others.
Recap of Hurricane Season 2018
The 2018 Atlantic hurricane season was the third consecutive season that was unusually damaging and above average.
Hurricane Florence formed off the coast of West Africa in September, lasting almost two weeks and making its way to North Carolina, causing at least 55 deaths and ranging from Category 4 to Category 1. In October, Michael was the second major hurricane of the season, and the first Category 5 hurricane to make landfall in the continental U.S. since Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Michael hit the Florida Panhandle with maximum sustained wind speeds of 161 mph, causing catastrophic damage.