Update: Alma Kicks Off Pacific Hurricane Season

May 30, 2008

Update, 4 p.m. EST: Alma has been downgraded to a tropical depression. This is the last we will report on this system, which has dissipated over Central America. No cruise ports or itineraries were affected.

(May 29) --The Atlantic hurricane season, which officially begins on June 1, is obviously a major focus for forecasters and travelers -- after all, it affects multiple regions from the Caribbean to the U.S. East Coast -- but storms brew in the Pacific, too. In fact, the Pacific has already laid claim to its first: Tropical Storm Alma, which is currently nearing the west coast of Central America.

Though Alma does not pose a threat to cruise ports or itineraries at this point (we'll keep you posted), the storm's early-season appearance is a reminder to prepare for what's on tap in that region for 2008. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there is a 70 percent chance of below-normal activity in the East Pacific. The NOAA's official forecast calls for 11 to 16 tropical storms, of which 5 to 8 are expected to become hurricanes, including 1 to 3 major hurricanes (Category Three strength or higher); an average season nets 15 or 16 tropical storms, with 9 hurricanes.

The East Pacific hurricane season began on May 15 (two weeks earlier than the Atlantic season) and runs, like the Atlantic season, through November 30. This is the fourth year the NOAA has issued an official forecast prediction for the East Pacific hurricane season; 2005 was the first ever.

The Pacific season generally garners less attention than the Atlantic season because most hurricanes in this region head away from the Mexican and Central American coasts and fizzle out over the Pacific, thus bearing little to no impact on cruise itineraries. A few, however, turn back toward Mexico's Pacific Coast and popular resort cities along the Central American coastline; cruise ports such as Acapulco and Puntarenas have suffered storm damage in the past. Last year, for example, Carnival Cruise Lines altered itineraries to avoid Tropical Storm Kiko; Cabo San Lucas suffered minor damage after Hurricane Henriette brushed the tip of the Baja California peninsula.

What is interesting to note is that historically, when the Atlantic experiences above-normal seasonal activity, the Pacific tends to experience below-normal seasonal activity and vice versa. Indeed, the NOAA predicts a 90 percent chance of a near or above normal season in the Atlantic this year.

Editor's Note: What about Hawaii? Hurricane experts expect three to four tropical cyclones to occur within the Central Pacific in 2008. Typically, four to five tropical cyclones (one hurricane, two tropical storms and one or two tropical depressions) occur yearly. Although it is rare for a hurricane to hit Hawaii, it has happened.

--by Melissa Baldwin, Managing Editor