What You Need to Know About Traveling During Hurricane Season

What You Need to Know About Traveling During Hurricane Season

Late last week, Hurricane Elsa was a close call for the Virgin Islands after her Category One winds and rain brought some serious damage to Barbados and St. Lucia.  We saw some swells, high seas and above average wind here on St. John as she passed a couple of hundred miles to the south of us.  So, nothing too serious, but that first close call of the season always leaves us a little shaken and stirred up here in the USVI.  With above average occupancy projected for this fall, I wanted to take a moment to remind all of you planning for travel during these precarious months to exercise caution and be aware of your surroundings before and during your visit.

What You Need to Know About Traveling During Hurricane Season 1

I am currently working to put together the restaurant report and am finding that many establishments are unsure of what their off season plan will be or if they plan to close at all.  With occupancy at the Westin settling in at 90% through the month of October, it doesn’t shock me that many places plan to remain open during the generally slower months here.  One restaurant owner told me, and I quote, “LOL, we are open 365 unless the Governor or Mother Nature shuts us down.”

While this is all great news, it DOES draw some concern in the event of a major storm hitting the island’s fragile infrastructure with that many people here.  One of the saving graces post-Irma was that many restaurants had already closed and, in turn, many staffers and seasonal employees were already off island.  Tourist traffic was minimal as well.  Less people on island equals less evacuations both pre and post storm and less resources needed to take care of those people.  That being said, our island’s small businesses suffered a huge hit with Irma in 2017 and had just started to recover in 2019 when the pandemic hit, closing down the territory all over again.  We are ever so grateful for the business and visitors during these generally quiet months.

So, the responsibility of being prepared before and during travel to a hurricane zone during hurricane season falls on the individual.  The residents of these islands work hard at the first site of a storm to make sure that their hurricane prep kits are ready with working flashlights, new batteries, and portable chargers.  We make sure that we have plenty of back up drinking water and non-potable water for toilet flushing and showering in the event of a power outage.  We check our canned goods and non-perishables for expiration dates and make sure that we have plenty backed up.  We have a go bag packed and ready with rain gear and important documents so we are ready to go at a moments notice.  Generators are tuned up and hurricane shutters are checked for repairs and updates in the event they are needed.

What You Need to Know About Traveling During Hurricane Season 2

I’m not saying that you need to go to those lengths if you are planning for travel to St. John this fall.  But, with Elsa grazing the Caribbean last week, I do want to give you a gentle nudge to plan a little more accordingly.  Plan for the worst and hope for the best, if you will 🙂

At the official start to hurricane season last month, I published some tips and tricks for travel and preparation during the late summer and early fall months.  I wanted to, with this gentle nudge, add to that original post with some additional tips I found while searching around online.

In summary, here’s the checklist from the original post:

  • Buy travel insurance
  • Watch the weather – Radars, apps, all of it!
  • Build a “Go Bag”
  • Buy non-perishables and plenty of bottled water
  • Talk to your accommodations about their hurricane plan
  • Pack appropriately- rain gear and closed toed shoes are a must!

For more details on the above list…you guessed it…read the original post 🙂

Now, there are definitely a few things I forgot to include that I wanted to address today.  For starters, an absolutely fantastic resource for watching the weather, specifically on St. John, is Dan Boyd’s weather page, St. John VI Weather.  He is a long time resident with a TON of weather knowledge and he updates this page almost daily during the stormy months.  Multiple times a day if there is an “event” happening nearby.  Follow along on the Facebook page for regular updates if you are planning for travel here this fall.  If you were following along during Irma, you might have noticed that every major news network covering the storm barely even MENTIONED the Virgin Islands.  Puerto Rico this and Florida that.  Sheesh…It was so frustrating!  Dan does a great job of specifying and simplifying the information he shares so that we can both apply it to the area and understand it.

What You Need to Know About Traveling During Hurricane Season 3
Dan’s weather updates are invaluable and super easy to understand.

In the event of a storm, the likelihood of a loss of connectivity is super high.  And, when signals are low, every little bit of data being processed over those precious airwaves pulls away from someone being able to get word to their loved ones that they are OK. If connectivity is minimal, please consider the following to lessen your impact on this precious resource.

  • Turn off automatic updates-  This is something that you won’t even miss and you should likely try to do whenever you travel to the USVI, regardless of the time of year.  If you pick up the BVI towers while your phone is updating, your phone bill will reflect those charges!  Here is how to turn those pesky updates off for the iPhone and for the android.  In addition to cutting down on clogging up connectivity, this useful tip will also help conserve battery life on your device which can be precious when the power is down and you can’t charge up.
  • Turn on airplane mode-  Whenever you are not using your device, turn on the airplane mode function in order to prevent your phone from sucking up connectivity where it isn’t needed.
  • Use the wi-fi-  If cell coverage is low, but the airwaves are still open, tap into the free wi fi that is available all over town from the Love City Community Network!  Or, go grab a drink and ask to use the wi-fi at your establishment of choice.  After Irma, the Dog House Pub (sigh, I MISS that place!) was a hot spot where we could all go tap in to the wi fi to see what was going on in the world.
  • If there is no wi fi available, steer clear of unnecessary internet usage-  I hate to say it, but Facebook and Instagram are non-essential.  Don’t eat up the airwaves to tap into the latest on Britney or see what your friend in Omaha had for dinner last night 🙂
What You Need to Know About Traveling During Hurricane Season 4
We all remember this image::: CRUZ BAY, ST. JOHN – SEPTEMBER 12: People stand on the balcony of a building to try and get a cell signal on a hill above the Cruz Bay section of St. John in the US Virgin Islands on Sept. 12, 2017. The island was hit hard by Hurricane Irma. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Taking the planning and preparation guidance from our last update one step further….In addition to purchasing travel insurance, find out about the cancellation and rescheduling policies for your accommodations, air travel and activities in advance.  Most places here will be forgiving in the event of a storm, but it is always good to have that information ahead of time!

Just because all is clear in the Virgin Islands (and you know that because you have been watching the weather!), it doesn’t mean that you will be void of any travel hiccups along the way.  If your layover is in Miami, for example, and there is a storm in Florida, you may get rerouted.  With this, there is always the possibility of your bags going on their own little vacation.  Pack smartly in your carry-on so that you have essential items for a few days.  Items such as swimwear, a tooth brush, toiletries and a change of clothing can keep you from spending a TON of money on trying to purchase those items here.

What You Need to Know About Traveling During Hurricane Season 5
Know the difference between a watch and a warning!

In addition to packing smart in your carry on, consider adding a few items to your packing list that might not always come to mind when planning a beach vacation.

  • Anti-bacterial wipes-  I know, I know, with the COVID things we never leave home without these any more.  But, it’s worth mentioning that they can come in handy after a storm.
  • Baby wipes-  No power means no water pump which means no showers.  Bring along some wipes to keep yourself feeling fresh even if you can’t wash your face.
  • First Aid Kit-  To be honest, I always travel with a small first aid kit.  But, in the aftermath of a natural event, Band Aids and anti-bacterial ointments are essential!
  • Portable Solar Powered USB charger- This one needs no explanation.  But, if you have a stress free hurricane season week on St. John, it can be put to good use at the beach as well!
  • A small flashlight, or better yet, a headlamp-  Power outages happen on, say, a Tuesday with clear weather here for absolutely NO reason at all.   Shedding a little light during a blackout never hurts and a headlamp takes up almost no space in your bag!
  • Extra medication and cash-  Let’s face it, getting stuck in the Virgin Islands wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world 🙂  But, for these two essential items, bring double what you think you might need for your stay!

Once again, I hope these additional pointers have been useful to you in your preparation for visiting us this fall!  With this information, I am not attempting to frighten you or sway you from visiting during the off season months.  But, it is always better to be prepared for something when there is nothing than to be ill prepared in the event of a storm.  The upcoming Restaurant Report is nearly complete and I am just waiting for a few more check-ins from our restaurant friends.  Stay tuned next week for the annual update about scheduled closings!

What You Need to Know About Traveling During Hurricane Season 6


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