Fiona’s rain and winds batter the Caribbean: what to know when booking trips for hurricane season

From the Caribbean islands to Alaska, Mother Nature is making travel difficult in some places this weekend as major storm systems pack a dangerous combination of high winds and rain.

Among the biggest concerns is Fiona, which was strengthening Saturday morning in the Caribbean with the possibility of upgrading from a tropical storm to a hurricane as it heads towards Puerto Rico, the United States Virgin Islands (USVI), the Virgin Islands British and the Dominican Republic this weekend. Forecasters have warned that the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas could potentially find themselves in the storm’s path in the coming days.

Fiona’s reinforcement has already affected travel to some destinations. The USVI closed its seaports on Friday evening ahead of the storm’s arrival, with government officials warning the ports would only reopen after an inspection by the US Coast Guard.

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Flights from St. Thomas and St. Croix in the USVI and San Juan, Puerto Rico continued to take off and land on Saturday morning, but disruptions began to build up as the weather progressed. daytime. A tweet shared by San Juan Airport (SJU) on Saturday showed a slew of cancellations.

Cruise lines have been busy rerouting ships, as is customary and quite common during hurricane season. Royal Caribbean has swapped ports of call for multiple ships.

The cruise line’s chief meteorologist, James Van Fleet, wrote on Twitter on Saturday morning that Royal Caribbean had already made schedule adjustments for some ships and itinerary changes were possible for others.

In Alaska, where the remnants of a typhoon threaten parts of the state, Van Fleet said Royal Caribbean ships were well outside of that storm’s predicted path.

Meanwhile, government social media accounts in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and other Caribbean destinations potentially on the way have warned residents and tourists to pay close attention to forecasts over the hours. and days ahead, as the National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning for Puerto Rico on Saturday morning.

In an update Saturday morning, the National Hurricane Center warned of “extensive flooding impacts” and the risk of mudslides in Puerto Rico, with Fiona expected to dump large amounts of rain into US territory.

A tropical storm that hit Puerto Rico this weekend brings back some difficult memories. Five years ago this week, Hurricane Maria made landfall, ultimately destroying San Juan’s airport and causing historic devastation across the island. Other Caribbean islands, including the USVI, also suffered significant damage from the fall 2017 hurricanes, from which the islands have spent much of the past five years recovering; a recovery that includes a significant rebound in tourism in recent years.

Damage to a beachfront building in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. AFP PHOTO/HECTOR RETAMAL/GETTY IMAGES

And while Atlantic hurricane season has been largely calm so far, Fiona is a reminder of a roadblock that, while ultimately unlikely, can certainly upend your fall travel. It also serves as a reminder of the importance of at least considering travel insurance, whether through credit card protections or a separate policy, especially when traveling during risky times of the year.

Travel insurance during hurricanes

We’ve spent much of the past two and a half years talking about travel insurance as it relates to trips interrupted due to COVID-19. As the impacts of the pandemic on travel have lessened, chances are the weather will once again be one of the main reasons you might want to consider additional protections when planning a getaway. For some, this may mean relying on coverage provided by a travel credit card or purchasing a separate policy.

Travel insurance can be essential to offset costs for a variety of reasons, including when you have to cancel or change your travel plans due to a major weather event like the systems seen this weekend in the Caribbean or Alaska.

When thinking about future trips, however, there’s one important rule of thumb to remember when it comes to storm systems like Fiona: in most cases, you can’t be reimbursed by insurance policies. typical trips only once a storm is named, and only if you purchased the policy before the storm was named.

“Travel insurance is designed to protect you from financial loss due to unforeseeable events,” warns coverage page for Allianz Travel explains. “This means the benefits may not apply to events that were common knowledge when you purchased your plan.”

The company lists past events that have triggered coverage alerts, which not only include past hurricanes, but also winter storms.

When you consider all the reasons why a trip might be disrupted, the costs of buying travel insurance and the rules behind a policy – not to mention when and whether to cancel a trip you have planned – there is a lot to think about.

Do I really need travel insurance?

If you had to purchase travel insurance for every trip taken during hurricane season, that would of course be expensive. After all, Atlantic hurricane season technically runs from early June through late November.

Understanding when and where storms hit most often can help you make the best decisions about when to buy insurance and for which trips you should be best prepared for a weather disruption.

“September 10 is statistically classified as the peak hurricane/tropical storm season,” said McCall Vrydaghs, chief meteorologist for CBS affiliate WHIO-TV in Dayton, Ohio, pointing to late August through late August. late September as the most likely time of your travels. in some places could be affected.

“September, I would definitely be thinking, ‘Oh, there’s a possibility my vacation could be affected by some sort of tropical storm system.’

Vrydaghs classified the Caribbean and the Gulf Coast as “hot spots” during this time for travel to potentially be affected by a hurricane or tropical storm.

Palm trees in hurricane force winds during a past storm in Antigua. MIKE HILL/PIERRE/GETTY IMAGES

How to know when to cancel a trip

As most who have watched the weather forecast on TV know, storms like Fiona can often change direction – sometimes in drastic changes.

This can complicate decisions to cancel a trip: when they see a potentially worrying forecast for their next destination, travelers may find themselves weighing their hopes of continuing to take their vacation on the one hand, with safety and rules. governing the travel insurance claim on the other hand. .

“I need to know, how [close to departure] am I able to get a full refund, or a partial refund, to give me enough time to see where a potential storm might be heading,” Vrydaghs said. She recommends watching forecasts closely and evaluating day-to-day travel decisions – understanding along the way how long you can wait to cancel your trip and get a refund, if you do. have an insurance policy.

“Five days out, I’d be on high alert,” she said.

If the forecast still looks bad after that?

“Three days [out]…I’m probably making a decision in my mind that I might have to undo, and 48 hours…I’m probably already deciding yes or no,” Vrydaghs said.

What to do if you’re on an island and a hurricane is approaching

Safety is an additional factor to consider when you are at your destination, as a storm begins a path in your direction; a situation that is all the more crucial to assess when staying on an island.

Vrydaghs recommends formulating some kind of “exit strategy” at the first sign of a worrying forecast, calling it an “extra step” needed when traveling in September to destinations that may see tropical storms or storms. hurricanes.

“I would start planning, ‘how do I get out if I need to get out, and how long do I have to make that decision,'” she said. “A lot of people travel with multiple people of all ages, so it’s not that easy to just take a family of five.”

Ultimately, she suggests paying close attention to local weather advisories and National Hurricane Centerwhich offers detailed information on a storm’s path and potential risks.

At the end of the line

A satellite image of Fiona above the Caribbean. NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER

Alaska and parts of the Caribbean will face major storm systems over the next few days, with the potential for high winds and heavy rains that could have a major effect on travel. Although the first part of the hurricane season was calm this year, it is a reminder of the importance of formulating contingency plans when Mother Nature impacts travel and assessing – in advance, when you book a trip – if that’s one you’d do well to do. protect yourself with travel insurance.

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