Hurricanes and tropical storms are a fact of life in the Caribbean and can cause serious havoc for locals and travellers alike. They develop almost every year in the summer and each one is given a name from a list created in advance by the World Meteorological Organisation – such as Tropical Storm Tammy, which is set to affect islands in the eastern Caribbean in the coming days.
Their strength and threat is categorised on a rising scale from one to five with the highest number the most extreme. This is when sustained winds of 157mph or more strike, destroying homes, felling trees and wiping out power supplies.
The good news is that most islands remain unaffected. Advanced warning systems are in place to track a hurricane’s path and force and if necessary emergency measures are taken. While there remains a risk that visitors to this popular region should be aware of, don’t let it put you off going. The people of the Caribbean have always lived and coped with this reality and the word ‘hurricane’ derives from the language of the indigenous Taino people who flourished here until the Spanish conquest in the late 15th century.
If you’re planning a holiday to the Caribbean, read our essential guide to this natural phenomenon.
When is the hurricane season in the Caribbean?
Hurricane season runs officially from June to November. This is the time frame covered by the Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook, issued annually by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) headquartered in Washington DC.
What are the worst months for hurricanes?
Old folk like to answer this with a witty response that goes: “June, too soon; July, stand by; August, come they must; September, remember; October, all over.”
However, there’s no set pattern and in recent years some of the most devastating Category 5 hurricanes have passed through in September, including Irma and Maria (2017), Dorian (2019) and Ian (2022).
What is the weather like in the Caribbean during the hurricane season?
June to November are the most hot and humid months of the year with average temperatures around 28ºC. When it’s not raining the skies are invariably a brilliant blue and you can watch from your sunlounger as the clouds gradually build over the ocean.
Downpours tend to be intense but short-lived and are often in the night. Mountainous islands like Dominica, Martinique and Puerto Rico receive considerably more rainfall than arid, low-lying destinations such as Anguilla and Turks and Caicos.
Is it safe to travel during the hurricane season?
Yes. As the NOAA states: “For someone visiting the tropics during June through November, the chance to experience (or even be threatened by) a hurricane is very small.”
Many travellers like to visit the Caribbean in these months because it is quieter and cheaper than in the peak winter season, especially after the school holidays in the summer. This is also an important time for cultural celebrations on some islands, such as Barbados (Crop Over in July), Antigua (Carnival in July-August) and Grenada (Spicemas in August). Note that September to November is the Caribbean’s low season, so some hotels and restaurants close for a few weeks to do renovations and give staff time off.
Hurricanes are tracked at the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (nhc.noaa.gov) where you can see the latest forecasts. Travellers from Britain can look at the UK website Tropical Storm Risk (tropicalstormrisk.com) and the Norwegian StormGeo (stormgeo.com). US media outlets like CNN (cnn.com) offer continuous coverage of major developments. On the islands, government warnings will be issued if serious threats develop and steps taken to ensure the safety of both residents and visitors.
Can I save money by visiting the Caribbean during the hurricane season?
Yes. Hotel rates can be up to a third less than in the peak winter season from mid-December to April. Some properties also have a minimum stay requirement during this busy period.
In addition, while airfares are linked to demand, many carriers have flight sales in September. The best package deals are likely to be outside of the school holidays in the summer and over the October half term.
Which islands are the most prone to hurricanes?
Hurricanes develop east of the Caribbean and then move westwards before curving north and east close to mainland USA. They are capricious with no fixed path, but analysis of tropical storms and hurricanes from 1851 to 2019 carried out by the Caribbean Hurricane Network (stormcarib.com) found Abaco in the Bahamas to be the region’s ‘Hurricane Capital’. Historical data from the NOAA also shows that Cuba has received the most strikes from tropical cyclones, which are weaker than tropical storms.
As a loose rule, the further south you go the less likely you are to be affected by one.
Which Caribbean islands are safest during the hurricane season?
Close to Venezuela, the Dutch islands of Aruba, Curaçao and Bonaire lie outside the so-called hurricane belt. Trinidad and Tobago, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada are also good bets. Barbados gets off lightly, too – when the Category 1 Hurricane Elsa passed through in 2021 it was the first major weather incident on the island since 1955.
Are cruise holidays affected by the hurricane season?
They can be but most voyages go ahead as planned and there is the bonus that prices tend to be lower than in the peak winter season. Sophisticated tracking of weather systems means that any dangers can be avoided, but you should be aware that changes of itinerary are more likely at this time of year. It is a good idea to avoid tight flight connections to your embarkation point, just in case airline schedules are disrupted.
What should I do if my holiday is affected by a hurricane?
Firstly, create a safety net by organising travel insurance as soon as your trip is booked – once a hurricane has been named getting cover for its consequences will be difficult. Policies vary and this level of protection may attract an additional premium. Look for phrases like ‘natural catastrophe cover’ and ‘travel disruption’ then read the wording closely. Aspects of a holiday that you might claim for are a delayed or missed departure, alternative accommodation if your chosen hotel is out of action, and missed or lost belongings. Cancellation may only be covered if the Foreign Office advises against travel to the affected area.
Booking a package holiday through a tour operator or travel agent will offer more support and protection than if you put your holiday together as separate components. If you like to book direct, note that some hotels (for example in the Bahamas) offer a ‘hurricane guarantee’ with a full refund should the NOAA issue a warning within seven days of your arrival.