Hiding From the Weather: Island Retreats for Hurricane Season
Originally published in Yahoo! Travel
As hurricanes Genevieve, Iselle, and Julio swiped by Hawaii last week, and hurricane season ramps up in the Caribbean, it can be a challenge for travelers to find a safe island getaway. Targeting the right island at the right time can greatly reduce the risk of running into a vacation-ruining (and potentially life-threatening) storm. Here are some islands where hurricanes rarely occur, no matter what the season.
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The Caribbean is well known as the home of hurricanes, with devastating storms visiting annually. There’s an average of about six named storms a year, with August to October seeing the most damage (according to the National Weather Service data). No island or coastline is completely immune to the wrath of the storms, but certain islands fall out of the usual main paths, averaging a direct hit once every couple of decades. This is in contrast to the hurricane magnet of Grand Bahama, which gets affected by a hurricane on average once every 1.6 years, with a direct hit every four years.
Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao
Sheltered by the nearby Venezuelan coast, the “ABC” islands get directly hit by a hurricane only once every 28 years, on average, with just five storms blowing through the islands since tracking began in 1871. However, Aruba’s last hurricane was in 1954, so the law of averages says it’s overdue for another one, which will almost certainly come during your next vacation.
It’s a good thing Barbados averages only one hurricane every 20 years, because the island is full of monkeys, and we can’t have swarms of flying monkeys being blown all over the Caribbean on a regular basis. Because the island is in the far southeastern segment of the Caribbean, it escapes most of the storms, which develop farther to the west and continue moving in that direction. But when the winds hit, they hit hard: The Great Hurricane of 1780 killed more than 4,000 people in Barbados — and untold legions of monkeys.
The good news: There’s only one hurricane every 23 years on average. The bad news: There’s a live volcano on the island. Pick your poison. La Soufriere last erupted in 1979, and only four times since 1800, so you’re probably safe. If you manage to coordinate your visit between natural disasters, take the fascinating hike past the banana plantation and up to the top of La Soufriere. You’ll see steaming fissures belching sulfur from a Lost World-type jungle hundreds of feet below you in the volcano’s crater.
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The eastern seaboard of the United States and Canada is not a place to avoid hurricanes. In the north, Sable Island, Nova Scotia, sees hurricane-influenced storms every 1.9 years. In the middle, anything near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, is pretty much doomed, since the area tops the hurricane frequency list, with a storm coming every 1.37 years. And down south, Florida, the Gulf Coast, and their associated islands average severe storms every two to three years.
So it’s time to head west in search of hurricane-free islands. Despite plenty of hurricanes blowing in the Pacific Ocean, Scientific American explains that they tend to move northwest, and the cold ocean waters sap their strength, thus sparing the U.S. West Coast.
However, a few times a decade, hurricane remnants have indeed hit southern California and the U.S. Southwest with heavy rains and winds. In 1977, the tail end of Hurricane Heather dumped over eight inches of rain in one day on Nogales, Ariz. Barring a freak storm whose edges may bring in extra wind and rain, these West Coast islands are certified hurricane-free.
Santa Catalina Island, Southern California
Formerly owned by William Wrigley Jr. (of chewing gum and Chicago Cubs fame), the southern California island has been a playground for Hollywood types since the 1920s. Its arid landscape doubled as a setting for many cowboy movies, and a herd of 14 buffalo brought to the island for one film escaped and have since multiplied to more than 150. There’s plenty to do on the island: Visitors can ride the trails on horseback, go for a bumpy Hummer ride through the hills, cruise on a vintage bus, or just relax on the beach with a cocktail and toast the good fortune of avoiding hurricanes.
Farallon Islands, Northern California
Usually windy and misty, the wildlife refuge of the Farallon Islands may sometimes seem like it’s on the outskirts of a hurricane, but the rugged rocky island chain just faces the occasional Pacific Ocean gale. The public isn’t allowed on the Farallons, 30 miles west of San Francisco, for fear that they will disturb the huge populations of nesting birds and marine mammals that make the island their home. But from July to November, the Farallons are a prime spot for whale watching, and regular cruises sail from San Francisco Bay to spot migrating humpbacks, grey, and even blue whales.
San Juan Islands, Washington
Unlike San Juan, Puerto Rico, you’re not going to see any hurricanes on the San Juan Islands off the coast of Seattle. And despite the name, nearby Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park does not get actual hurricanes (although the mile-high mountaintop does regularly get blasted by gale-force winds). Take a 3.5-hour ferry ride from downtown Seattle, and spend the day around Friday Harbor on San Juan Island or join a whale and wildlife-watching cruise. Or stay the night and ride ferries to the three other main islands in the chain to hike, bike, or just relax in the mellow archipelago.
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