The NOAA predicted an unusually severe hurricane season this year. Why?
Sandy was an unusual storm for its size and path.
Each year hurricane season begins in June and lasts through November, and last May we saw the first predictions for the possible severity of the 2013 hurricane season. What were the experts at NOAA (the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) saying about the upcoming hurricane season? They were saying that it could be very severe.So far, they were dead wrong. There haas not been aa maajor hurricane yet this year. Vut it is not too late, this week (mid-September) respresents the trypically most tumultuous time for hurricanes in the Atlantic. However, so far so good - and there is noting on the horizon.
Of course, hurricanes can affect cruise ship itineraries, even if that impact is minimized by merely changing the selection of ports of call in order to avoid the path of a storm. I do want to point this out, however. I have seen NOAA use this prediction before, and as even they will point out, hurricane prediction is an especially inaccurate science.
This year NOAA also noted that hurricane activity can also be somewhat meaningless unless one of the storms happens to hit shore. For example, the only 2012 storm most people can probably name is Sandy, because it caused so much damage on land. Sandy also caused a number of cruise ship problems, such as ships unable to return to their New York home ports to return guests and pick up new passengers. There was also pretty severe damage to the Manhattan cruise passenger terminal which took it out of service for several months.
Hurricanes and Cruising
Changing the cruise itinerary in order to avoid the storm activity is actually a very simple but effective solution. Hurricanes in general tend to be rather small is size and usually take only one of two possible paths; eastern or western Caribbean, and it is rare (although it does happen) for a hurricane to affect both regions. So, the simple solution is for a cruise ship to sail in the opposite direction that a hurricane is taking.
Most hurricanes start deep in the Atlantic Ocean, close to the coast of Africa, and develop slowly. They are easy to track in the moment but almost impossible to predict in terms of exactly where they will go. Most tend to move roughly northwest, towards Florida. In the path you find the islands of Caribbean. Keeping in mind that hurricanes develop and grow stringer as they mature, most hurricanes do not affect Barbados or Trinidad, because they are too far south, but many turn west and hit the Windward and Antilles Caribbean Islands, the Western Caribbean, the Yucatan Peninsula, and the Gulf Coast.
A equal number tend to go the opposite direction, due north from the deep Atlantic; and they may never make landfall at all. By the time they get as far north as Bermuda most have fizzled out, although in rare cases (Sandy) a hurricane can continue all the way up the East Coast to New York.
The 2013 Season Predictions
Bottom line: NOAA forecasted a very active hurricane season in 2013, with 13-20 named storms, 7 to 11 hurricanes, and possibly 3 to 6 major hurricanes. So far, they are batting zero for zero. They recommended taking some time right now to go over your hurricane plans if you live along the coast, saying, "You never know when that one storm can hit."
The reasons for the 2013 prediction were:
1) We are in a 30-year cycle of increased Atlantic hurricane activity thanks to a continuation of the current atmospheric climate pattern, which includes a H3 West African monsoon.
2) Sea surface temperatures are above average all across the Atlantic, especially in the Caribbean Sea and in the southern portion of the Northern Atlantic Ocean.
3) The El Niño-Southern Oscillation, also called the ENSO, is expected to be neutral for this 2013 season and that tends to lead to H3er hurricanes since the El Niño would have limited and slowed down tropical activity in the Atlantic Ocean.
As far as cruises go - hurricanes can affect your cruise plans - not only the route your ship will take, but also your ability to fly to your cruise embarkation city.
Now, it is very important to remember that Hurricane activity tends to peak in October, generally with most storms by far occurring between September 15th and November 1st than in the earlier part of the season (the summer months). The reason for this is simple; hurricanes are caused by warming water in the Atlantic feeding moisture to the trade winds coming up a "western Atlantic" (meaning the east coast of America), and the water tends to heat up slowly as summer continues along.
So, if you plan to cruise between now and November we recommend:
1. Plan to arrive at your cruise ship at least a day early - because it is very possible storms could delay your flights, or that you might need to make last minute flight changes to get to your ship or to meet the ship someplace else than its regular home port.
2. Do not book cruises where you are H3ly focused on the destinations. As we said, in most cases the worst that happens is that your captain chooses a different itinerary than the one you booked, so he can avoid the storms. So, if it is your dream to see the Mayan ruins in the Yucatan, it's probably better to wait for winter to go there, because your cruise could be re-directed to Puerto Rico.
3. Get travel insurance. If you should need to change your last minute travel plans, if you lose some luggage due to last minute plane reservation changes, or if you just can't make it to your cruise because of disrupted air flight schedules, travel insurance should cover you in most cases. Keep in mind another facet of hurricanes; it is possible that your cruise could be fine, but if you live on the East Coast you may not be able to leave home because a storm is headed towards your home (Sandy was a good example).
4. Remember that the best time of year for bargain cruise sailings is from September to December. This is not just because of hurricane season (it's a small factor) but more because of families busy with other distractions; the school season re-starting and the approaching holiday season. So, while you will see some the best cruise bargains of the year during these months, keep in mind that it is also the peak of hurricane season.
5. Don't expect any compensation from the cruise line if it changes itinerary to avoid the hurricane. The only thing a cruise ticket guarantees is seven days on board the ship with food and comfort. Ports of call may be changed or canceled, show times may be canceled, the ship might rock - but these things are not the fault of the cruise line, which will always do its best to maximize your safety and comfort first.