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Our "storm meister" is Senior Contributor Steve Faber, who came to study meteorology out of necessity, learning the skills out of an aversion to death and dismemberment -- his own! For years he was a private pilot and understanding weather was a basic survival skill....
On our message boards, member seaweed5 asked this great question: "I'm thinking about booking a Caribbean cruise for September or October 2007. Am I more likely to encounter a hurricane on an Eastern or a Western itinerary? Or is the risk about equal?"
The short answer is that anywhere in the Caribbean is in the "likely" zone for hurricane passage, but you are slightly more likely to encounter one in the Western Caribbean. This assessment is based on the two major factors that determine storm tracks. The first is the current location of the spawning ground -- dictated by local sea temperatures, sun angle and the location of the Intertropic Convergence Zone. (Check out Hurricane Hot Zones for more information.)
The second factor is steering currents, generated by trade winds, the jet stream, and the strength and position of our old acquaintance the Bermuda High. Taken together, these elements yield a most likely spot for storm formation and a most likely track for those storms for any given time period. The National Hurricane Center has adopted these factors into a series of monthly charts for the entire season, pictured below.
As you can see, the most likely place for tropical cyclone formation in June is in the Gulf of Mexico off the west coast of Florida, with predominant storm tracks moving to the north across the Western Caribbean and Gulf.
In July, the spawning ground splits in three, with the Gulf, southeastern Atlantic and Windward Islands yielding the bulk of storms -- the majority hitting the Eastern and far Western Caribbean, and the U. S. Gulf Coast.
No surprise, August's map shows what we know empirically: The range and number of potential storms has grown tremendously. August is the beginning of the Cape Verde season, and the long, westward tracks of those storms can be seen in the August map. You will also note that the tracks are flattened or make their northward turn at a more western point, due to the effects of the Bermuda High. In August the entire Caribbean is at risk, but as shown by the orange and green shading, the Eastern Caribbean is the more vulnerable route.
In September, it's harder to find an area hurricanes don't spawn, or regions not likely to encounter one.
You can see the increased vulnerability for the Western Caribbean (and Florida!) in October's map.
And by November, the season is (hopefully) winding down.
Images appear coutesy of National Hurricane Center.