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March 1999 Vol. 25, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Caribbean Hurricane Planning

from the March, 1999 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Planning a dive trip to the Caribbean this summer? Expect the hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30, to be just as active as last year’s deadly season, says Colorado State University hurricane expert Professor William Gray.

According to the Associated Press, Gray and his colleagues are predicting fourteen storms, nine of them hurricanes and four major hurricanes, in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico.

When comparing the coming season with long-term averages, Gray suggests the U.S. Atlantic coast has twice the chance of being hit by a major storm with winds of 111 mph or higher than might be expected in an average year. He also foresees more storms that will begin in lower latitudes and therefore have a greater chance of affecting the Caribbean.

“We expect a season nearly as active as last year’s. Of particular importance is our prediction that four intense hurricanes will form.” Gray underestimated last year’s 14 named storms, nine of which were hurricanes and three of which became intense hurricanes; he predicted 10 named storms, six of them hurricanes and two intense hurricanes.

Of course, even armed with that information, it’s still a crap shoot. While the Caribbean rainy season can affect diving all summer and early fall, it’s still the time of fewer tourists, generally better prices, and summer fun. And early summer travel isn’t likely to coincide with storms: 87% of minor storms and a full 96% of intense storms occur during the months of August through October.

Also keep in mind that the farther south you go in the Caribbean, the more likely you are to avoid the big storm. Early season storms often begin in the Gulf of Mexico or within the Caribbean itself, but in July and August the areas of origin shift eastward. Often the fiercest storms are spawned off the western coast of North Africa as “easterly waves” that travel west along the lower trade wind flow across the Atlantic Ocean, growing in intensity as they develop. Though these storms eventually turn north and pick up speed, the farther south you are, the more likely you are to find yourself to the south of a storm approaching along the “hurricane belt.” Bonaire, Tobago, and Aruba, for example, are considered outside the “hurricane belt.”

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