The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released today its official outlook for the Atlantic hurricane season, and the forecast is pretty much in line with predictions issued last month. According to the NOAA, there is a 90 percent chance of a near or above normal season.
The outlook, which is produced by scientists at the NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, National Hurricane Center and Hurricane Research Division, states that an above normal season is most likely (65 percent chance), but that there is also a 25 percent chance of a near normal season and a meager 10 percent chance of a below normal season.
Climate patterns suggest that there will be 12 to 16 named storms; of these, 6 to 9 are expected to become hurricanes, and 2 to 5 major hurricanes (Category Three strength or higher). To put these numbers in perspective, consider that an average season produces 11 named storms, including six hurricanes -- two of which are considered major. Last year, 14 named storms formed in the Atlantic; there were six hurricanes (two of which were major). Of note, of course, is Category Five Hurricane Dean, which made landfall near Costa Maya, causing major damage to the port. Costa Maya is reopening in July, almost a year after Dean struck.
So what does this mean for cruise travelers? First of all, it's important to keep in mind that there's no such thing as total accuracy when it comes to grasping Mother Nature. In both 2006 and 2007, the number and severity of actual hurricanes fell short of forecasters' expectations, prompting them to revise their predictions mid-season -- and causing premature worry among cruisers still reeling from 2005, the most active season on record. Also, even during an "above normal" season, the chances of your particular voyage being affected by a storm are slim -- and, if you're willing to take the risk, you'll likely score a great deal.
Here are some more helpful facts and figures:
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 25 - 31 is National Hurricane Preparedness Week, and forecasters and emergency officials are urging people to make preparations now. For people who live in East and Gulf coastal areas, as well as cruise regions such as the Caribbean, Bermuda and the Bahamas, this means having a plan for dealing with storm surges, high winds, tornadoes and flooding. Travelers calling at or departing from these areas should be doubly aware of potential itinerary changes.
Also be aware 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 2007 hurricane wrap-up -- and be sure to bookmark Cruise Critic's new and improved Hurricane Zone! We took the Zone back to the drawing board and redesigned it to make it easier than ever to find storm-related news, features, message board discussions and up-to-the-minute itinerary changes -- as well as hot deals on hurricane season sailings.
--by Melissa Baldwin, Managing Editor