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Hurricane Myths Debunked

The official hurricane season lasts from 1st June to 30th November with the peak in September. Throughout this time, the Caribbean sees an average of 10.1 tropical storms. Of these, 2.5 are classified as ‘major hurricanes’. Despite hurricanes being a natural occurrence each year, many myths and false facts are spun to create fear of the tropical storm season. This has been whipped up further in recent years with some truly devastating hurricanes, such as Harvey in 2017 and Katrina in 2005, causing billions of dollars’ worth of damage, displacing families and killing many in their path. 
Here, we take a look inside the eye of the storm of the hurricane phenomena and split the facts from the fiction. Take a look and see how much you truly knew about hurricanes.

Cruise Ships NEVER sink during hurricane season

Despite 11% of damage being offshore in the Caribbean Sea, cruise ships are left unscathed by the hurricane season. With no fatalities or severe damage on any cruise ships due to hurricanes to date, statistically, the safest place to be in the Caribbean between July and November is at sea. Firstly, cruise ships, unlike buildings, can relocate and simply move out of the way in plenty of time. Secondly, cruise ships are well-stocked with all the provisions and supplies you need to see out rough weather. Even if your return home is delayed by damage to the port, in theory your ship can stay out there for weeks without trouble. In fact, cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean and Disney actually give aid to islands hit by hurricanes. Thirdly, if a ship was to ever be caught out, they are perfectly designed to ride out the storm. Equipped with tough hulls and stabilisers, and designed with a low centre of gravity to stay upright, a cruise ship stays steady while its engines power you out the other side.

Hurricanes CANNOT outrun ships and vehicles

The scenes you see on disaster films of cars trying to escape twisters and being sucked up are fiction. In fact, cruise ships going at 20 knots on average can easily outrun a forecast hurricane, which travels at around 10-30mph across the earth. It is true the winds in the hurricane can blow at anything up to 200mph- as much as a high speed train- depending on the category, but this is the spinning motion of the storm, not the ground covered. Think about it like a spinning top - sure, it’s rotating fast, but it’s stood relatively still save the odd wobble. We use the Beaufort Scale to distinguish between different classifications of sea storm levels. As we can see if we take a look at the Beaufort Scale, a hurricane is the top at number 12 on the scale with wind speeds over 73 miles per hour, resulting in the atmosphere being full of water spray and waves at least 14 metres in height. In contrast, a gale is only a broad word for categories 7 to 10 on the Beaufort Scale, with wind speed anywhere between 33 to 55 miles per hour.

Hurricanes are NOT named after famous people

The Meteorological Organisation comes up with children’s names for the hurricanes on a six year rotation. The first storm that season has a name beginning with A and then they work through the alphabet. For example, Daniel would be the fourth storm that year. However, letters Q, U, X, Y and Z are not used as there are not many possible names beginning with them. Therefore, if there are more than 21 storms in a season, they are named after the Greek alphabet. This means storm number 22 would be ‘Alpha’, 23 would be ‘Beta’, and so on. This naming process is to make communication clear about which storm people are referring to at one time. This practice is vital for clear communication when reporting and forecasting the movements of various tropical storms forming in and around the Caribbean Gulf. In addition, if a storm is particularly infamous, its name is retired.

Hurricanes are NOT formed by strong winds

Hurricanes form when a large body of water gets heated and becomes vapour. This large amount of vapour forms clouds which begin to spin due to the low pressure in the centre - not because of existing winds hitting each other. This works a bit like the vortex in the bath plug. In the centre there is low pressure and apparent calm while the edges spin and spin. As they do this, the clouds dump large amounts of water as rain and spray. When there is no more water to suck up as they move inland, they die out because the water functions as the hurricane’s fuel. This is why only 1.75 a year actually reach mainland USA. This formation is due to the rotation of the earth on its axis creating the ‘Coriolis force’ and, as a result, hurricanes spin in different directions depending on which side of the equator they were formed. In the northern hemisphere they spin anti-clockwise and in the south clockwise, but cannot form too close to the equator as here the Coriolis force is too weak.

Hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones are the same - but a tornado is NOT

There are many words to describe a very windy and rainy, violent storm that spins in a vortex. In the case of ‘typhoon’, ‘hurricane’ and ‘cyclone’ these differences are geographical. Typhoons are in the North Pacific around the China Sea, cyclones in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean, and hurricanes in the Americas and Caribbean in water at least 60 metre deep and 27ºC warm. Meanwhile, tornados form due to hot and cold winds clashing over land. Tornados can be formed by the warm air of the hurricanes hitting colder air, resulting in other small twisters, but these whirlwinds only last 20 minutes on average. We call this zone ‘Tornado Alley’. Meanwhile, the regular path of a hurricane is the north and west of the Caribbean. We call this area the ‘Hurricane Belt’. In contrast, the rest of the Caribbean is usually relatively untouched. Due to the water temperature and proximity to the equator, the smaller South East Caribbean islands are generally safer as the storm either misses them completely, or is not yet a fully-fledged hurricane until it enters the pressure cooker of the Gulf of Mexico.

Hurricanes do NOT grow up to 500 miles wide

A hurricane can’t usually sustain itself over more than 100 miles in diameter, but a tropical gale can often reach around 300 miles in width. Storms simply cannot be so intense over a large distance. Usually a storm will shrink in size to become a more intense hurricane. Again think about this like a bath draining, the vortex of the plug is only small while the rest of the water is much slower and calmer until it is sucked in. Typically, a hurricane is around 30 to 100 miles in diameter. This may sound like a lot when you place such a scale over the UK as done here. But with the Caribbean being so vast, it looks much less intimidating. What’s more impressive is that a hurricane can reach nine miles in height, with the eye of the storm being visible from NASA’s weather tracking satellites in space.

Wind is NOT the most dangerous part of a hurricane

Despite the most awe-striking part of a hurricane being a wall of twisting wind, strong gusts toppling trees and making furniture fly about only accounts for 12% of all storm damage that happens during hurricane season. In fact, a massive 59% of damage is caused by flooding due to the heavy rain and spray sucked up and drenched back down again as the hurricane fuels itself and moves on. When you also account for offshore sea damage at 11%, coastal surf damage at 11% and surges at 1%, we can see a gigantic 82% falls under the total category of water damage. Even if we DID factor in tornados with wind damage, at 4%, we still barely make a ripple in the sheer capacity for destruction water can cause during a hurricane as rivers, lakes and swamps also flood. Meanwhile, the ‘other’ 2% could be anything from lightning strikes to fire damage or innocuous mishaps, usually due to human error, during the commotion.

Holiday prices do NOT go down due to hurricane season

There are a number of other factors which have a much bigger impact on you getting your whirlwind holiday deal. Firstly, the hurricane season is during the peak of summer. This hot weather not only creates the storms but also makes the weather much less pleasant for the North Americans who make up a majority of Caribbean cruisers. As the demand isn’t there during this time, most cruise ships use this window to relocate before the main tourist season begins. Secondly, the summer also brings the school holidays. Here we can compare the trend in prices compared to hurricanes and seasonal peaks. As we can see if we compare the average Mediterranean price fluctuations (where there are no hurricanes) to the Caribbean ones, hurricane season plays little part in getting your bargain cruise deal. What is more, the myth of cheap last minute deals due to the cruise lines being unable to fill their cabins, can also be seen as false, as we compare both short and long term rates.

To know more about hurricane season and cruising, check out our amazing infographic.

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