Planning a getaway to the US East Coast or the Caribbean? You may be concerned about the risk of a hurricane disrupting your trip. Here's a primer on hurricane season.
Last year experts underestimated the number of hurricanes in 2017. The season turned out to be one of the most ferocious and deadly in history.
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 coming from the Atlantic can impact vacations on the Southeast coast, all of Florida, and along the Gulf Coast from the Florida Panhandle to Texas.
What's typical? Based on historical weather records dating back to 1950, a typical year will bring 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. (Learn more about how hurricanes are defined.)
Should we focus on the number of storms? Yes and no. The only storms most of us need to worry about are those that actually make landfall, which can have little correlation to the total number of storms in any given season. For example, 2010 was an extremely busy season, with 19 named storms and 12 hurricanes. Yet no hurricane, and only one tropical storm, made landfall in the US that year.
Until its lucky streak ended in 2016, Florida been hurricane-free for a decade. Historically, North and South Carolina get many fewer landfallling hurricanes than Florida. And curiously, Georgia—which lies between Florida and the Carolinas—gets the fewest of any of them.
What does it mean for my vacation plans? Statistically, there is a very low risk that a storm will impact your vacation. Still, if you're planning to vacation in Florida, the Gulf Coast, or the Caribbean during hurricane season, you might consider buying travel insurance or opting for a hotel with a hurricane guarantee. Typically, if your trip is cancelled 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.
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.