A "very active" hurricane season is looming, according to the official outlook; there's an 80 percent chance of an above-normal season. The outlook, which is produced by scientists at the NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, National Hurricane Center and Hurricane Research Division, calls for 13 to 16 named storms. Of these, 8 to 10 are expected to become hurricanes, and 4 to 6 major hurricanes (Category Three strength or higher).
Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma were the most disruptive to the cruise industry in 2005, and hard-hit areas, particularly New Orleans and Cozumel, are still rebuilding. Last year's season produced a record 28 storms, 15 of which reached hurricane status, far exceeding NOAA's expectations (only 12 to 15 named systems were estimated to form in total, with 7 to 9 becoming hurricanes).
Other records were also broken in 2005: Early-bird Hurricane Dennis marked the first time in recorded history that four named tropical systems had formed in the Atlantic by July 5. On the flip side, the formation of Tropical Storm Alpha not only made the 2005 season the busiest ever, but also forced the National Hurricane Center to identify storms using the Greek alphabet for the first time.
Additional information and updates:
May 21 - 27 is National Hurricane Preparedness Week, and forecasters and emergency officials are urging people to make preparations now. "Although NOAA is not forecasting a repeat of last year's season," Conrad C. Lautenbacher, undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, said during a news conference today, "the potential for hurricanes striking the U.S. is high."
The season officially runs from June 1 through November 30, with the peak falling between mid-August and late October -- prepare to be flexible if booking cruises in the Caribbean or along the Atlantic. Itineraries could change suddenly (and cruise lines are not obligated to compensate passengers when ports are canceled due to weather).
Also beware that disruption could extend beyond missing a port or two. Last year, hurricanes struck Florida's coast and the Gulf Coast, and cruises were canceled, abbreviated or even lengthened (when ships couldn't come in from the sea).
Popular Western Caribbean port of call Cozumel is still recovering from Wilma's wallop. Two of the island's three piers are still being repaired, and some ships are either anchoring out at sea or calling instead at nearby Costa Maya. Businesses are open, but damage to waterfront structures -- and foliage -- is evident.
In the U.S., New Orleans, devastated by Hurricane Katrina last August, will reclaim its status as a cruise homeport on October 15 with the return of Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Sun; Royal Caribbean has announced that Grandeur of the Seas will resume regularly scheduled service from New Orleans on December 2, and Carnival's Sensation is expected back sometime in the fall.
Read more about last year's season in our 2005 hurricane wrap-up. In the meantime, stay tuned to Cruise Critic for up-to-the-minute hurricane news and useful features.