Good Morning, Good Morning! I hope that everyone was able to enjoy some great company and good times over this beautiful Memorial Day Weekend! As we transition from spring to summer in the Caribbean, I want to bring to your attention that Hurricane Season 2021 has arrived. And, with that, a season of much needed time off and, traditionally, downtime for island staffers who have been working hard through this extremely busy season. But, the 2021 hurricane season looks to be busy…both on St. John and in the Atlantic Basin.
We all know to exercise caution when planning to be on St. John during the peak hurricane season months of August through October. In recent history, storms that brought extreme damage to the Virgin Islands have made landfall during the month of September.
- Hurricane Hugo – September 20, 1989 – Category 4
- Hurricane Marylin – September 15-16, 1995 – Category 2
- Hurricane Irma – September 6, 2017 – Category…I don’t know…12?
- Hurricane Maria – September 20, 2017 – Category 5
But, that’s not to discount the variety of smaller storms that pass over or near the Virgin Islands each summer and fall bringing rain, heavy winds and lots and lots of power outages. What many people don’t know is that hurricane season technically spans from today, June 1, through November 30. And, this year, like many in the recent past, the NOAA is calling for an active season in the Atlantic Basin. One named storm, Tropical Storm Ana, has already shown up early for the party with a formation date of May 22.
If you are planning to travel to St. John during these stormy months, this post is definitely not intended to frighten you! We generally have a steady flow of visitor traffic throughout the late summer and early fall and I’m here to give you some tips, pros and cons for travel during this potentially precarious time of year.
Let’s start with the good stuff.
Even though this summer and fall season are predicted to be abnormally busy with visitor traffic, we still likely won’t see the numbers we have during this winter and spring. If you are planning to visit during the months of August, September or October, you probably won’t be fighting for a rental car, dining reservation or parking spot at your favorite beach. This time of year can sometimes be one of my favorites because the beaches can be seemingly empty outside of locals enjoying some well deserved time off. A lot of the charter boats will haul out or sail away to get out of harms way so the busy bays of winter clear out, giving you a virtually empty horizon line for your view.
The fight for accommodations simmers a bit and you’ll likely see some discounted rates on lodging options. And, while the rental cars don’t deviate from their rates, despite the time of year, you will most likely have a decent shot at renting a car on St. John without too much searching around.
While many restaurants and other businesses close their doors for a few weeks or months during this period of time, many stay open for the duration. And, with lower visitor traffic, you probably won’t have much of a hassle in getting into your favorite restaurant or watering hole. That being said, the bar tenders and servers might have more time to stop and have a chat with you while you enjoy a drink and the view…With the craziness of right now, that definitely isn’t a thing. In the later fall, you might catch your favorite bar tender in great spirits, having just returned from a relaxing, refreshing and much deserved vacation with stories to tell about their travels. And the time to do so!
Oh, and the sunsets during this time of year can be ABSOLUTE fire!
This is an absolute PERFECT time to get out on the water! During the fall, the Caribbean blue can flatten to the point that it seems like you are floating on glass. A day trip to Anegada (when the BVI is open), St. Croix or even Puerto Rico is not out of the question during this time of year on a speedy and sizeable power boat.
The beaches and trails are open for business and you’ll likely enjoy them without fighting the immense amount of traffic on the roads that we are currently experiencing. Parking lots at the beaches and trail heads (and in town!) will have open spaces once again and you might get lucky enough to enjoy an overlook or two all to yourself. In a nutshell, if you are seeking some quiet time on St. John, this might actually be a great time of year for you to visit.
However, the amazing solitude of the islands during this time of year, doesn’t come without its downsides.
You will run into some of your favorite spots being closed during your visit due to annual off season closures. We may even see some establishments closing their doors for the first time this year due to an intense staffing shortage on St. John (everywhere?). Some places have already announced that they are closed select days of the week to give their crew a day off from the seven day work weeks they have been enduring for months. The Tap Room is currently closed on Tuesdays, Lovango Rum Bar and Colombo’s Smoothies on Sundays and Mondays and Banana Deck on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, to name a few off the top of my head. We will post the full Restaurant Report of closures and off season hours by the end of July so you can plan accordingly!
Additionally, I mentioned that a lot of the boats will clear out during peak hurricane season. The season is much safer for boats to endure if they are hauled out and safely secured at a marina. Many will sail to the southern Caribbean or to the northern United States in order to get work done and/or tuck away from the immediate threat of storms. However, there are many charter companies that will stick around with options for you to get out on the water. We will also be releasing a “Who’s in the Water?” Report later this summer for you to see the available options!
Here’s some real talk for you. Power outages happen here ALL THE TIME. Like on a Tuesday. Just for fun. Trust me when I say, it’s inconvenient for all of us. All of the time. Our power company, WAPA, is about as reliable as a sixty year old watch that has been sitting at the bottom of the ocean for half its life span. So, during not-so-great weather, just expect the power to go down. Make sure you have plenty of cash on you when you go out to eat because credit card machines will be the first thing to go. And, don’t be a pain about it! That poor bar tender that is now working by the light of a cell phone is a bit more inconvenienced by the lack of current and will likely have to endure it for a few more hours 🙂
The obvious downside to travel during this unpredictable season is weather. For starters, IT IS HOT. The temperature itself doesn’t deviate too much. You won’t see humid highs in the 100’s down here. But, the wind just kind of stops…It gets very muggy and sticky and the mosquitos can be a pain. That lovely Caribbean breeze kind of also just takes some time off during the late summer and early fall months. But, that just kind of lends itself to spending more time at the pool, the beach or in your air conditioned rental during your stay 🙂
Unless, of course, the wind does the opposite…
The true upheaval to travel during hurricane season is…You guessed it. Hurricanes.
The bottom line is, life doesn’t just stop down here during these months. Businesses still open each day, people still get up and go to work or the beach, visitors still come and go at the edge of the dock. But, around this time of year all of us start to think in the mindset of “preparedness” and “resiliency.” And that is where the travel tips come in.
How can you best prepare yourself for travel in the Caribbean during hurricane season?
First thing’s first. BUY TRAVEL INSURANCE! With the immediate threat of intense weather, the airport and seaports will close. If you can’t get here, you can’t check in for your stay, your activities, etc. And, while many tour operators and hospitality managers will be sympathetic to this and extend refunds or rescheduling options, it is likely going to be difficult to request these things from someone who A) You cannot reach because communications are down or B) Just maybe lost their boat or business to a major storm.
So, travel insurance is best to ensure that you are covered, regardless of the weather. An absolutely fantastic way to do this is to start with SquareMouth. It’s basically an Expedia for travel insurance that allows you to search different types of travel insurance with filters and compare prices.
This one seems like a no brainer, but you would be surprised at some of the questions that come in 🙂 Watch the weather in the days and weeks leading up to your trip. I’m not saying you should cancel your trip if there is some random weather system projected to move through the territory, but do just keep an eye on things. I enjoy the Max Hurricane Tracker App for basic viewing and notifications of new systems and named storm formations over the Atlantic Basin. If you’re a real weather nerd or boater like myself, check out Windy. It has in depth analysis of SO MANY layers of wind, rain, waves clouds and air quality. If you are into weather systems and haven’t explored this app before, make sure you have some hours to go down the rabbit hold before downloading it 🙂
It is equally, if not moreso, important to keep an eye on the weather WHILE YOU ARE HERE! You would be amazed at the number of residents and visitors who didn’t actually know that Irma was coming until days before she arrived. In addition to keeping an eye on the weather, also sign up for “Alert VI” text and email alerts from Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA).
The best thing you can do in order to lessen your impact on island resources in the event of a major storm during you visit is to be informed and prepared. Here are a few more recommended preparedness actions for you to take at the beginning of your stay in order to make sure you have what you need to ride out the storm or successfully evacuate in the wake of a major event.
- Make a “Go Bag.” Keep a small carry-on sized bag packed with closed toed shoes, socks, a rain jacket, practical clothing, CASH, bottled water, snacks, a flash light, first aid essentials and toiletries. Pack your identification and travel documents into a ziplock or water proof bag and keep it in this bag as well. Chances are you won’t need any of it, but keep it on hand and stow it next to the door of your lodging facility just in case!
- Buy some non-perishables. Grab some granola bars, canned foods, gallons of water, dried goods, etc. OR, pack some ready made meals that don’t require re-heating from the states. What you don’t use during your stay, you can donate at the Catholic Church in Cruz Bay in order to assist in island preparedness down the line 🙂
- Know where to go. Check with VITEMA and your lodging facility about hurricane plans before you arrive. We do not have a storm shelter on St. John and it is KEY to know about evacuation plans before a major storm hits. In order to preserve island resources for the residents and minimize chaos just before an event, it is imperative that visitors are able to get out before a storm and not fight the masses just after.
- Pack appropriately. Flip flops and bathing suits are the norm here. But, during this time of year, bring some rain gear and tennis shoes in order to keep yourself dry during rainy season.
All of this being said, you may very well simply enjoy a peaceful and memorable visit on St. John during these slower months. If a storm system seems to be forming nearby while you are here, don’t panic. We see MANY tropical storms, depressions and even hurricanes that graze our beautiful islands without much more than heavy winds and rains. Just make sure you stay informed about what the weather is doing and have a plan in place, just in case, so you can kick back and enjoy your beautifully quiet and hopefully uneventful island time.