The United States Virgin Islands—made up of St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John—are a Caribbean paradise. However, the location of the islands in the Eastern Caribbean also makes them especially vulnerable to hurricanes. A powerful storm can quickly ruin a trip, either before you get there or after you've already arrived. So, before you plan your next getaway to the U.S. Virgin Islands, make sure to consider the hurricane season and plan ahead before a storm affects your vacation.
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, when 78 percent of all storms occur and 96 percent of major hurricanes. The season refers to when storms are most likely to form, but tropical storms can occur year-round.
Historical weather records dating back to 1950 show the Atlantic region experiences an average of 12 tropical storms per year, six of which turn into hurricanes. A hurricane is designated a "major hurricane" when it's Category 3 or higher, meaning the sustained wind speeds are at least 111 miles per hour. The 2019 hurricane season was the fourth consecutive year with a higher-than-average number of storms and forecasts from Accuweather and The Weather Company predicted that the 2020 hurricane season would be even more active.
How Often Do Hurricanes Hit the US Virgin Islands?
On average, a hurricane passes near the U.S. Virgin Islands every three years, while a hurricane makes a direct hit on the islands, on average, every eight years. Two Category 5 hurricanes hit the U.S. Virgin Islands 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. Even though the U.S. Virgin Islands are located in a more storm-prone area compared to other Caribbean Islands, such as Jamaica or Barbados, the probability of a storm hitting during your stay is incredibly small. However, 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 U.S. Virgin Islands 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.
Read the fine print of your hotel and flight reservations before finalizing your plans. Some companies are much more accommodating in the face of a storm than others and will allow guests to come back on a future date, while others may not allow rebookings at all.
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, emergency contact tracking, and preparedness information. You can also follow weather updates from The Weather Channel, Accuweather, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), among others.