A very active hurricane season is looming, according to the official outlook; there's a 75 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 17 named storms. Of these, 7 to 10 are expected to become hurricanes, and 3 to 5 major hurricanes (Category Three strength or higher). Already, we've seen the formation of Subtropical Storm Andrea.
However, let's not forget that we received a similar warning last year ... and the season was mild, at least compared to 2005. In 2006, forecasters predicted 13 to 16 named storms with 8 to 10 becoming hurricanes, 4 to 6 major. In the end, though, just nine named storms and five hurricanes formed in the Atlantic last season, two of which were major. That is considered a "near normal" season, according to the NOAA.
In fact, in 2006, the hurricane season ended without a single hurricane striking the United States. Only two systems, Tropical Storms Alberto and Ernesto, hit the U.S. mainland, and neither caused significant damage. That's in contrast with 2005, when four hurricanes hit the U.S., including the devastating Hurricane Katrina that pummeled New Orleans.
Other popular cruise ports -- and cruise itineraries -- suffered as well; Cozumel is still recuperating from Hurricane Wilma's 2005 hit. But even with 2006's Atlantic season paling in comparison to 2005's, "better safe than sorry" was the motto for many ports of call and cruise lines, and sailings in the Caribbean as well as the Mexican Riviera were impacted last year as well. The impact this year's season will have obviously remains to be seen.
Additional information and updates:
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).
May 20 - 26 is National Hurricane Preparedness Week, and forecasters and emergency officials are urging people to make preparations now. "With expectations for an active season, it is critically important that people who live in East and Gulf coastal areas as well as the Caribbean be prepared," said Bill Proenza, NHC director. For travelers calling at or departing from these regions, this means being doubly aware of potential itinerary changes.
Also beware that disruption could extend beyond missing a port or two. In the past, 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).
Read more about last year's season in our 2006 hurricane wrap-up. And be sure to stay tuned for the re-launch of Cruise Critic's exclusive Hurricane Zone next week. It's your one-stop shop for storm-related news, features, message board discussions and up-to-the-minute itinerary changes.
--by Melissa Baldwin, Senior Editor