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Caribbean Hurricane Guide

Hurricane expert Bob Sheets separates myth from reality about Caribbean storms

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Caribbean Hurricane Guide

Artist's rendering of a satellite image of an Atlantic hurricane.

© NOAA

Yes, there are hurricanes every year in the Caribbean. Yes, these big storms sometimes hit land and disrupt vacations. No, you should not let hurricanes prevent you from taking a Caribbean trip, even during the height of hurricane season!

Bob Sheets, former director of the National Hurricane Center, says the biggest myth about Caribbean weather is "that every hurricane season is unlivable."

"Your chances of getting hit by a hurricane in the Caribbean is probably not a whole lot different than it is in Miami or on the Gulf Coast," says Sheets. In fact, 100 years of hurricane data show that the chances of Miami being hit by a hurricane is "higher than anywhere in the Caribbean," according to Sheets.

Different Islands, Different Risks

Nor is the risk the same from island to Caribbean island. Bermuda, like Miami, has about a one-in-four annual risk of being affected by a hurricane; the odds for Nassau, Bahamas are about one-in-five.

But the islands of the southernmost Caribbean -- such as Aruba, Barbados, Curacao, Bonaire, Grenada, and Trinidad and Tobago -- rarely get hit by hurricanes: Bonaire, for example, has just a 2.2 percent annual risk of being affected by a hurricane, making your odds about 50-1 against a storm interrupting your vacation.

Likewise, the islands of the Western Caribbean are less likely to be affected by hurricanes than those of the Eastern Caribbean.

The Dow Jones Island Index (for PDF, click here) recently ranked Curacao as the Caribbean island least likely to be hit by a hurricane, followed by Bonaire, Grand Cayman, Barbados, and Aruba.

Caribbean: Less Risky than Gulf Coast

Overall, says Sheets, Caribbean visitors have just a 2-3 percent chance of being affected by a hurricane during a one- or two-week trip. The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June to November, usually peaking in September.

With all the attention on the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, compare the hurricane risk for the Caribbean to New Orleans, which historically has a 12.5 percent chance of being affected by a hurricane in any year.

Ironically, while Katrina focused the attention of every American on the damage that hurricanes can cause, the record number of storms that formed in 2005 did relatively little damage in the Caribbean.

2005 a Wild Year

Over the past decade, the Atlantic hurricane seasons has averaged 14 tropical storms and eight hurricanes per year -- part of a trend of higher-than-normal hurricane activity that began in 2005 and is expected to last until at least 2015.

In 2005, however, there were 37 named storms and 9 hurricanes, including six powerful storms rated as Category 3 or higher. Even in such a wild year, however, direct hits by hurricanes are rare, even in the Eastern Caribbean. In 2005, only Hurricane Dennis did major damage in the region, to Cuba.

By contrast, the Caribbean saw fewer but more dangerous storms in 2004, when the Category 5 Hurricane Ivan did major damage to Grenada, the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, St. Vincent, and Tobago. That same year, a pair of hurricanes hit the Bahamas three weeks apart, pounding the islands with high winds and rain.

Clearly, luck plays a role in which islands get hit, and when. But again, the odds strongly favor a storm-free Caribbean vacation, even if you travel in peak hurricane season.

Caribbean Weather Guide

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