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Getting a handle on hurricane season

Travelers face tough choice between good deals, scary weather

By Rob Lovitt Travel writer, MSNBC contributor, Updated: 7:03 p.m. ET May 31, 2007

If you’re traveling to the Caribbean this summer, you may want to pack the poncho and some extra seasickness patches. Hurricane season officially starts June 1, and according to federal weather watchers, things could get a bit rough this year.

Released last week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, the 2007 report projects a 75 percent chance that the Atlantic hurricane season will be above normal.

The report goes on to predict 13 to 17 named storms, seven to 10 of which could become hurricanes and three to five of which could become major (Category 3 or higher) storms. That compares to an average of 11 named storms, six hurricanes and two Category 3 or higher.

Of course, predicting hurricanes is still an inexact science. (Last year was surprisingly calm, despite predictions of a similarly above-average season.) In fact, there are only two things you can count on: In the Caribbean, the threat of bad weather translates into some of the best deals of the year, and if you plan ahead, you can minimize the risk of rough seas or a ruined vacation. Here’s what you should know:

When to go
The Atlantic hurricane season officially runs June 1ÐNovember 30, although Mother Nature doesn’t always get the memo. This year, for example, the first named storm of the year Subtropical Storm Andrea showed up off the coast of Florida three weeks before the start of the official season.

Typically, hurricane activity peaks between mid-August and the end of October, and current conditions suggest that will hold true this year. For the latest information, visit the Climate Prediction Center Web site in early August when NOAA will release its updated seasonal forecast.

Where to go
When it comes to hurricanes, not all Caribbean islands are created equal. No island is completely immune, but prevailing weather patterns clearly favor some over others. For example, the ABC islands Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao often remain out of harm’s way due to their extreme southern location. For island-by-island statistics, check out the Caribbean Hurricane Network, which ranks destinations from the Bahamas to Trinidad and Tobago.

Cruisers, of course, have the benefit of mobility, and all cruise ships have contingency plans in place when bad weather threatens. Simply put, they head elsewhere, calling at alternative islands or spending extra days at sea. Just remember, you may still experience rough seas and heavy rain and you won’t be reimbursed for itinerary changes or missed ports of call.

Before you go
If the prospect of heading south during hurricane season makes you nervous, but you still want to go, consider a hurricane guarantee or trip-cancellation insurance. Both will provide peace of mind and, depending on the program, some sort of credit if a hurricane interferes with your travel plans.

Trip-cancellation/interruption insurance provides the most comprehensive coverage, offering reimbursement for everything from cancelled flights to forced evacuations (along with many non-weather-related problems). Expect your premium to cost of 5-10 percent of your vacation.

There are, of course, caveats. Policies may be primary or secondary. (The former apply from the first dollar; the latter only kick in after your own primary insurance pays out). They can’t be purchased once a storm has been named. And they won’t reimburse you if your resort is hit by bad, but non-hurricane-strength weather. For more information, check out TripInsuranceStore.com … which offers side-by-side comparisons from several providers.

Hurricane guarantees, on the other hand, are typically offered by specific resorts and provide credit or compensation if a hurricane disrupts your stay. Again, policies vary by property, although most share several underlying principles. They only kick in if a storm is officially declared a Category 1 hurricane (wind speeds of at least 74 mph) or higher; they’ll waive cancellation fees and penalties if flights are cancelled; and, unlike insurance, thereÕs no upfront cost to guests.

If a hurricane strikes during your stay, most resorts will offer a voucher for a replacement vacation that must be taken within one year. Some will reimburse only for the number of days specifically affected; at others, the replacement mirrors the original booking, not just the affected days. Either way, you’re generally on your own regarding airfare and other, non-resort costs.

For more information on hurricane guarantees, the Caribbean Hotel Association maintains a list of nearly 50 resorts that offer them. Meanwhile, in Bermuda, 16 resorts have joined together to offer their own standardized guarantee; the Bermuda Hotel Association has details. As with insurance, always read the fine print before making a decision.

Ultimately, though, the odds of a hurricane hitting your particular destination during your particular visit are quite slim. You may still want to bring the poncho and seasickness patches but, chances are, you’ll get more use out of your sunscreen and snorkel gear.


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PPS - Even though TripInsuranceStore.com is the world's most informative travel insurance website, you are still responsible to know the coverage terms, conditions, limitations, and exclusions of your plan. No comments or explanations confirm or deny coverage. You need to refer to each plan's policy wording.

PPPS - The Trip Cancellation coverage begins at 12:01 a.m. on the day after the date the policy is purchased. All other coverages begin when you leave home for your trip when your departure date is in the future.

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