Fiona’s Rain, Winds Hit the Caribbean: What to Know When Booking Travel for Hurricane Season

From the Caribbean islands to Alaska, Mother Nature is making travel difficult in some places this weekend as major storm systems are packing up a dangerous mix of high winds and rain.

Among the biggest concerns is Fiona, which was strengthening Saturday morning in the Caribbean with the potential to upgrade from a tropical storm to a hurricane as it moves toward Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands (USVI), the British Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic this weekend. Forecasters warned that the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas could end up in the storm’s path in the coming days.

Fiona’s strengthening has already affected travel in some destinations. The US Virgin Islands closed its seaports Friday night in anticipation of the storm’s arrival, with government officials warning the ports would not reopen until after an inspection by the US Coast Guard.

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Flights from St. Thomas and St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands and San Juan, Puerto Rico, continued to take off and land on Saturday morning, but the disruptions began to pile up as the day progressed. A tweet shared by the San Juan Airport (SJU) on Saturday showed a large number of cancellations.

Cruise lines have been busy rerouting ships, as is customary and quite common during hurricane season. Royal Caribbean has been trading ports of call for various ships.

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The cruise line’s chief meteorologist, James Van Fleet, wrote on Twitter on Saturday morning that Royal Caribbean had already made adjustments to the schedule of some ships and that it was possible to change the itinerary of others.

In Alaska, where the remnants of a typhoon threaten parts of the state, Van Fleet said Royal Caribbean ships were a long way from that storm’s projected path.

Meanwhile, government social media accounts in Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and other Caribbean destinations that could be in the way have warned residents and tourists to pay close attention to forecasts for the next few hours. and days, as the National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning for Puerto Rico Saturday morning.

In an update on Saturday morning, the National Hurricane Center warned of “considerable impacts from flooding” and the risk of landslides in Puerto Rico, with Fiona expected to dump large amounts of rain on the US mainland.

A tropical storm hitting Puerto Rico this weekend brings back difficult memories. Five years ago this coming week, Hurricane Maria made landfall and ultimately destroyed the San Juan airport and caused historic devastation across the island. Other Caribbean islands, including the US Virgin Islands, also suffered significant damage from hurricanes in the fall of 2017, from which the islands have spent much of the past five years recovering; a recovery that includes a significant rebound in tourism in recent years.

Damage to a beachside building in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. AFP PHOTO/HECTOR RETAMAL/GETTY IMAGES

And while it’s been a quiet Atlantic hurricane season so far, Fiona is a reminder of an obstacle that, while ultimately unlikely, can certainly upset your fall journey. It’s also a reminder of the importance of at least considering travel insurance, whether through credit card protections or a separate policy, particularly when traveling at risky times of year.

Hurricane travel insurance

We’ve spent a good chunk of the last two and a half years talking about travel insurance as it relates to trips interrupted due to COVID-19. As the impacts of the pandemic on travel have subsided, it is very likely that the weather will again be one of the main reasons why you may want to consider additional protections when planning a getaway. For some, that may mean relying on coverage provided by a travel credit card or purchasing a separate policy.

Travel insurance can be critical to offsetting costs for a variety of reasons, including when you need to cancel or modify travel plans due to a major weather event like the systems seen this weekend in the Caribbean or Alaska.

However, when you think about future travel, there’s an important rule of thumb to remember when it comes to storm systems like Fiona: In most cases, typical travel insurance policies can only reimburse you once you name it. a storm, and only if you bought the policy before the storm was named.

“Travel insurance is designed to protect you from financial loss due to unforeseeable events,” Allianz Travel’s coverage alerts page explains. “That means benefits may not apply to events that were public knowledge when you purchased your plan.”

The company lists past events that triggered coverage alerts, including not just past hurricanes, but also winter storms.

When you factor in all the reasons why a trip might be cut short, the costs of buying travel insurance, and the rules behind a policy — not to mention when and if to cancel a trip you’ve planned — there’s a lot to think about.

Do I really need travel insurance?

If you had to buy travel insurance for every trip that falls during hurricane season, of course, it would be expensive. After all, Atlantic hurricane season technically runs from early June to late November.

Understanding when and where storms hit most often can help you make the best decisions about when to buy insurance and on which trips you should be best prepared for a weather disruption.

“Statistically, September 10 ranks as peak hurricane/tropical storm season,” said McCall Vrydaghs, chief meteorologist for CBS affiliate WHIO-TV in Dayton, Ohio, noting that late August to late September is the most likely time for your travels. to certain areas could be affected.

“The month of September, I would definitely be thinking, ‘Oh, there’s a chance my vacation could be affected by some kind of tropical storm system.’

Vrydaghs classified the Caribbean and Gulf Coast as “hot spots” during that time for travel to be potentially affected by a hurricane or tropical storm.

Palm trees in gale force winds during a past storm in Antigua. MIKE HILL/STONE/GETTY IMAGES

How to know when to cancel a trip

However, as most of you who have watched the weather forecast on TV know, storms like Fiona can often change direction, sometimes in drastic changes.

This can complicate decisions to cancel a trip: When faced with a potentially dire forecast at their next destination, travelers may weigh their hopes of continuing to take their vacation on the one hand, with the safety and rules behind making a travel insurance claim. travel for the other. .

“I need to know how [close to departure] can I get a full or partial refund, to give me enough time to see where a potential storm is headed, Vrydaghs said. She recommends keeping a close eye on the forecast and weighing decisions about whether to travel from day to day, with an understanding along the way of how long you can wait to cancel your trip and get a refund, if at all. have an insurance policy.

“Five days later, I would be alert,” he said.

If the forecast still looks bad after that?

“Three days [out]…I’m probably making a decision in my mind that I may have to cancel, and 48 hours…I’m probably already deciding yes or no,” Vrydaghs said.

What to do if you are on an island and a hurricane is coming

Safety is an additional factor to consider when you are at a destination when a storm begins to move in your direction; a situation that is even more crucial to assess when you stay on an island.

Vrydaghs recommends formulating something of an “exit strategy” at the first sign of a worrying forecast, calling it an “extra step” necessary when traveling in September to destinations that may see tropical storms or hurricanes.

“I would start planning, ‘how do I get out if I need to get out, and how soon do I need to make that decision,'” he said. “A lot of people travel with multiple people of all ages, so it’s not that easy to pick up a family of five.”

Ultimately, he suggests paying close attention to local weather advisories and the National Hurricane Center, which offers detailed information about a storm’s track and potential risks.

Bottom line

A satellite image of Fiona over the Caribbean. NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER

Both Alaska and parts of the Caribbean face significant storm systems in the coming days, with the possibility of high winds and heavy rain that could have a major effect on travel. While the early part of hurricane season was quiet this year, it’s a reminder of the importance of making backup plans when Mother Nature impacts travel and assessing, in advance, when booking travel, whether it’s a good thing to do. protect with travel insurance.

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