2017 Hurricane Season
Where are hurricanes most likely to occur?

Today I received an email from our travel insurance company. When you sign up for a trip to Belize with us, you will hear our strong recommendation to acquire a travel insurance policy. We make this recommendation because we have seen so many things go so wrong for a bunch of people… if you are one of those unfortunate people, travel insurance is a lifesaver. Of course, like all insurance policies, you usually don’t end up using the protection. But you’ve got it if you need it! If you don’t buy a policy and you do have to cancel, you will suffer a loss on your vacation. Sometimes, it’s 100% of the cost (if you cancel 10 days or less prior to departure). And that’s a bummer.

So when we recommend you buy travel insurance, we do recommend where to get it, and that’s Travel Ex. We like this company, and we whole-heartedly recommend them. You are under no obligation to buy it from them, and we don’t really care, we just really want you to get some kind of protection. Because if you have a policy and you have to cancel, you call us up and say “Sorry, I have to cancel.” If you didn’t buy a policy and you have to cancel, you call us up and start screaming. We are selfish that way, we don’t like to be screamed at. This is why we make such a big deal about it when you sign up. We know you might need it.

So all of that is to explain why I received an email today from Travel Ex reminding me that Hurricane Season has started. Ugg. Now I get to worry from now until the end of October. There are negative sides to having an island, believe me.

Although we are closed during hurricane season, many people do travel to the tropics during this time of year. So Travel Ex wrote a great article about what to do if you do travel when hurricanes are a concern, and that’s what the email was about. If you are planning to go south for the summer, bookmark this article: http://blog.travelexinsurance.com/travel-safety/five-tips-for-traveling-safely-during-hurricane-season/. It’s good advice.

Tropical Storm Harvey
Tropical Storm Harvey in Dangriga, Belize

We are closed in September and October because of hurricane season. Hurricane season officially starts sometime in June, but usually hurricanes don’t go as far south as Belize until September. This year was an exception, however, because we just had Harvey go over Glover’s Reef on August 20 of this year (no damage to our island , it never went beyond Tropical Storm status). But anyway, we are closed because if a hurricane did come during a trip, we would have to evacuate the group, and likely lose a great deal of money. A bad storm can really mess with us on Long Caye, we are on a tiny island (13 acres) WAY out in the middle of the ocean. (See this Belize map to see exactly where we are.) So we just avoid hurricane season altogether.

But still, every year I hear from numerous individuals wanting to visit Belize in September and October. If there is no hurricane, the weather still could be rainy, but then again, it also might be just fine. So I have some advice for people wanting to visit Belize in the Fall (well actually this advice would apply to anywhere in the Caribbean during hurricane season).

Possibly the best thing about visiting Belize in September and October is that it is the “off” season. Many places will be closed, but the ones that are open will likely have a special going on. So wherever you go, it will not be crowded, and it might be a really good deal.

Because it is the off-season, you don’t have to sign up early like you do for Christmas or Spring Break. So, what I recommend you do is just wait and watch the weather, especially if you wish to go to the sea. If you are planning to visit inland Belize, I would greatly temper this advice.

You can watch the hurricanes as they form off of Africa and see the storm track for each storm. This is what we do all summer long (welcome to my world.) We usually know at least 2 weeks in advance if a storm is going to head toward Belize. Obviously no one knows ultimately where a storm is going to end up making landfall, but you can get a very good idea if a storm is going to turn north right away and just go through the mid-Atlantic, or if it is projected to stay south and possibly head toward Belize.

Our favorite site is Wunderground, the most useful tropical hurricane site that we use regularly. If you go there now, and scroll to below the world map, you can see the 3 active storms and what their projected tracks are. In fact, going within the next two weeks would be a very good idea!

And finally, if you want to visit Belize in September and October, buy trip insurance! Because even the best laid plans can go awry.

The rainy season in BelizeEvery year we are asked about whether traveling to Belize or the tropics is a good idea during ‘the rainy season’. Slickrock is not open during this time (summer and fall) and it is partly due to bad weather in Belize, although the weather in the summer (June – August) is often not too severe until hurricane season arrives in September (although it can, of course, begin earlier). The other reason we close our operation during this time is due to the general decrease in interest people have in going south for the summer.

The rainy season, which affects all tropical regions on the planet, is caused by the equatorial weather zone – a low pressure, rain bearing climate zone – migrating north or south depending on the season. In the northern hemisphere’s summer, this climate zone moves north, affecting the latitudes of Central America and the Caribbean. This weather pattern creates periods of intense rainfall and humid, muggy weather which starts in June and lasts until November. However, the rain patterns are not the typical daily rainshowers during the afternoon which mist people associate with tropical rainy seasons. Rather, Central America experiences a series of tropical ‘waves’ of low pressure which sweep ashore off the Caribbean. These waves bring in 4-5 days of intense rains, then clear out. So in fact Belize and its neighboring countries have long periods of good weather in the summer, interspersed with rain events of a few days. Central America in general does not get the equatorial daily downpours found in such places as the rainforests of the Amazon or Congo.

The fall sees the most intense period of Belize’s rainy season. More frequent and more intense tropical waves sweep ashore, and monthly rainfall totals are the highest of the year. The trade winds slack off and it gets extremely hot and humid. This is the time of the year when hurricanes become a threat, as tropical storms in the Caribbean are able to grow and intensify into monster storms due to the heat content of the sea and low wind shear.

As fall approaches winter, the equatorial climate zone retreats south and a drier, cooler climate moves in. The tropical waves cease and rainfall decreases, and by spring the dry season is firmly entrenched and we sometimes see no rain at all for two months at a time!

Hurricane Mitch 1998

Hurricane threats are a fact of life in the Caribbean, and Belize is no exception. Every summer we grow increasingly worried as late summer and fall approach, for hurricane season lasts from On average, a major hurricane with widespread destruction hits Belize every 30 years. Belize City has been destroyed several times in the last century alone. Hurricane Hattie lead the government to move the capitol inland, creating Belmopan. This Category 5 hurricane hit Belize on Halloween in 1961. The hurricane that impacted us the most in the past 26 years was Mitch, which greatly affected our island at Glover’s Reef, although it did not make a direct hit to the country at all. Mitch killed 11,000 people in the surrounding region and wrecked the entire coast of Belize with the large surf it sent roaring into the coast. We lost our Dining Hall and 3 of our cabanas. Oddly enough, although our kayaks were found all over the island after the nine-day storm, we only lost one.

Hurricane Ivan 2004

Out on Long Caye at Glover’s Reef, we are particularly vulnerable to storms, although violent storms are responsible for the formation of the island to begin with. The island is nothing more than a pile of rubble thrown up by big storms in the protecting lee of the atoll’s ring reef. However, archeological evidence (Mayan artifacts) indicate that even though the island experiences big storm events on a regular basis, the land itself has not been swept away for thousands of years. When big storms hit, the wind may strip the palms of their leaf, but the trees and other vegetation survive and quickly grow back. The waves that break on the reef do wash across the island, and may re-arrange sections of the shoreline, but on our lee shore much sand is re-deposited and the island actually grows in size.

Hurricane wave damage at Glovers ReefAt right and above are images of Hurricane Ivan, which hit the tip of Cuba in 2004, but sent waves 500 miles to wash over our shore and knock down one of our docks.

Our biggest threat to hurricanes is with our infrastructure. The waves that do wash across the island tend to undercut the foundations of our cabins on the shoreline, which then fall over. We have lost seven buildings over the years to this erosional force, but we build them with this eventuality in mind, with a simple and rustic style, so that replacing them is not a problem. We have had many ‘wave’ events from passing storms (we had two last summer), and we are set up to bear the damage with little setback to our maintenance plan. Yet every year we do have quite a large repair and clean-up project to undertake to get the island back in shape. It is not all fun and games maintaining an island paradise so far out to sea, exposed to the fickle and violent Caribbean weather!

To see more images of Long Caye hurricanes, visit an earlier blog post: http://belizeadventure.com/2010/10/a-tale-of-two-hurricanes/

We have had 2 hurricane scares this hurricane season, and both have left us fairly unscathed, much to our relief. When you own an island resort in the Caribbean, you don’t look forward to hurricane season. Each July we start to get nervous, and don’t feel completely relaxed until November 1, when I proclaim hurricane season officially “over”. Only 4 more days to go!

Tropical storm Matthew passed very near our island on September 25, with sustained winds of 40 miles an hour. The most profound change was to the small sand bar just off our caye. Past guests will remember this sand bar because we conduct snorkel orientation just off this small bit of land. Well, this sand bar is no more! Damage during that storm also included damage to our surf dock, damage to the foundation on 2 cabanas which need to be re-cemented, and sand moved around and lots of seaweed washed up on the beach.

Hurricane Richard passed on a similar track, within 50 miles of our island, on October 24. This Category 1 storm had sustained winds of 75 mph. We were very surprised to learn that the damage from this storm was not as bad as the damage Matthew caused. In one instance we actually gained beach by cabana #6 that has been gone since 1998!

Our kayak beach by the sea kayak palapa lost a lot of sand with Matthew, as the storm surge washed away a lot of the beach, exposing roots. Richard put the sand back! (see photos.)

I will be posting other before/after shots over the next few days.

Belize beach before 2010 hurricane seasonSlickrock's kayak beach after MatthewLong Caye kayak beach after Hurricane Richard in 2010

Hurricane Richard hit central Belize yesterday afternoon as a Category 1 storm, making landfall about 20 miles south of Belize City with 90 mph winds. The strongest winds were confined to a 30 mile radius from the storm’s center, so very few areas sustained damage according to preliminary reports.

We are happy to report that everyone we know in Belize is fine. Our island base at Glover’s Reef was evacuated on Saturday, and since the storm passed 40-50 miles north of there we know from past storm experience that the island probably did not receive much in the way of wind damage, but a storm surge and high surf probably eroded a little more of the east side of the island and damaged our docks. Our friends at the dive shop will be going back out today and we’ll know more details soon.

In contrast, on October 28, 1998, Hurricane Mitch arrived near the Bay Islands of Honduras and ultimately eroded at least 50 feet of our shore. This Category 5 storm sat and churned over Guanaja for 4 days, sending huge waves our way. Although it never hit Belize, the force of this large, sustained surf (2 full days) did great damage to the islands at Glover’s Reef. We were able to clean up and open on time that season by hiring 30 men who worked at a frenetic pace for 5 weeks!

We will be posting updates as we receive them, stay tuned!