Anyone near a radio or newspaper today knows that June 1 is the start of hurricane season. An old rhyme puts it fairly accurately: “June, too soon. July, stand by. August, it must. September, remember. October, all over.” (Although this year with two named storms before June 1, one starts to wonder, and we all know of destructive storms in October and November.)
The word hurricane comes from the Taino deity Jurakan, their god of malevolence and destruction. For these ancient seafarers, the destructive capacity of a hurricane was compounded by the fact that they arrived virtually unannounced.
In more modern times, the only warning one had of a storm was a sudden drop in barometric pressure just before the storm would strike. Older residents of Road Town, in the British Virgin Islands, can still remember the days when a government agent would monitor the barometer and ride through town on horseback warning people when the pressure took a sudden downward turn.
Today, the National Hurricane Center in Florida tracks and predicts hurricanes, and islanders have several days’ notice before a storm strikes. Keeping an ear out for the tropical weather forecast is a daily feature of life in many households, including mine, although weather apps are quickly gaining in popularity.
When I first moved to the islands I thought that people would just leave when a hurricane was headed their way. But that is not what happens: most people ride out the storm by boarding up windows and hunkering down with canned food, lots of extra water, flashlights, and battery-operated radios. Some homes also have standby generators. Builders use the latest hurricane-resistant building technology: impact glass for windows and hurricane clips for roofs, for example. Mariners moor their boats at established hurricane holes, coves where wind and wave action are blocked. On top of that, local disaster management offices are well equipped and experienced in mitigation and response.
The Virgin Islands have experienced several devastating hurricanes. Storms in 1867, 1916, and 1924 wiped out whole towns. In 1989, Hurricane Hugo razed the Virgin Islands, St. Croix in particular. Hurricane Marilyn in 1995 dealt an especially devastating blow to St. Thomas. In 1999, Hurricane Lenny doused the entire region with heavy rains. In 2010 the eye of Hurricane Earl passed just north of the Virgin Islands as a Category 3 hurricane. Damage from Earl was worst for the marine industry: many docks were damaged or destroyed and boats sunk or damaged.
In addition to damage to buildings, roads, and boats, hurricanes can exact a cost on the natural environment. Waves from a hurricane can damage coral reefs, and the terrestrial destruction affects habitat for a number of creatures. Trees are stripped of leaves and branches. Some species, including many predators, benefit from the disturbance of a hurricane, however.
So what does all this mean to visitors? Well, travelers who book trips to the Virgin Islands during hurricane season, and especially during the peak month of September, would be wise to also buy trip insurance in case your plans are disrupted by a storm. Keep your eye on the weather forecast before you go, but also have the peace of mind that should a storm hit while you are here your hotel or villa owners will make sure you are safe and sound.