I’m getting a lot of requests lately about hurricanes and Cuba, and which months to avoid getting caught there. Those of you scheduled for our December Expedition shouldn’t be overly concerned, because the hurricane season will be finished by then. However, at the moment, the eye of Hurricane Irma is just north of the eastern tip of Cuba. It appears to be following the path projected by both the U.S. and European Hurricane Agencies. It is expected to soon start curving to the north, and head directly for Miami and south Florida. Irma has the potential to be as destructive as Harvey was in Texas a couple weeks ago, but for different reasons. Harvey remained almost stationary over southeast Texas for several days, so that record amounts of rainfall were produced. There was no place for most of it to go, so many areas were severely flooded. In contrast, Irma currently is moving forward at 20-30 miles an hour, but it may very well straddle the Florida peninsula and affect both coasts. With most hurricanes in the past, Floridians could usually anticipate where the most destruction would occur, and then escape to the opposite coast. Irma’s eye and destructive winds are about 200 miles across–wider than the entire peninsula. The Category 5 hurricane’s winds could conceivably blow over almost all of the southern part of the state. The biggest problems will be due to these winds, coupled with record storm surges. South Florida is very flat, so storm surges of 10-12 feet would travel many miles inland. It will be difficult for everybody to evacuate to the north, because there are only a few major highways, and gasoline will be in short supply.
In addition—I haven’t heard much about this issue, but there are usually dozens of large cruise ships returning to dock every day in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. The passengers likely planned to get off their cruise ships and catch flights out of these airports–which will likely be closed beginning tomorrow. Today they are overcrowded with people trying to catch flights to ANYWHERE. Irma could very well be another major disaster, with much greater loss of life. Let’s hope and pray for a miracle.
Ironically, if Irma had traveled west by northwest over Cuba, rather than in the ocean, it’s power would have been greatly diminished. Instead, it is now traveling north of Cuba over unusually warm open water, gaining strength. The main affect on Cuba will be large waves crashing into the north coast. By the way–I haven’t seen any reports yet, but you can expect that rapid responders from Cuba’s EMS teams are right now preparing to head for and assist the hardest-hit Caribbean islands, such as St. Martin and Barbuda.
Regarding hurricanes in general: the peak period for hurricanes in the Caribbean is early September, so we are currently in that “window.” The “Hurricane Season” actually lasts for half a year: the six months from June 1 until November 30, but they can occur any time of the year. A bell-shaped curve of hurricane activity indicates that almost all occur from July through October and the peak months are August and September. If you choose to visit Cuba any particular week during these peak months, the odds are 1 in a 100 that your trip will be significantly affected by a hurricane.
Cuba has a climate similar to Hawaii’s. Both are located about the same latitude, just south of the Tropic of Cancer. Technically this makes their climates “tropical,” but the surrounding oceans and trade winds make their climates effectively more “semi-tropical.” Both island groups range from northwest to the southeast, where it is usually warmer. Both have trade winds that bring rain primarily to the north and east sides, where there are many more rivers and rainforests. The south and west sides of all these islands tend to be dry and desert-like, and the ocean waters are consistently more clear, due to less run-off from streams. The higher you go up into the hills and mountains of both island groups, the cooler it is, especially at night.
Cuba has a wet season and a dry season, but it can rain any day of the year. The dry season is roughly from November to April. During the wet season, from May to October, it may rain several times a week, but it rarely rains continuously day after day. It often comes down hard for a short time, then the clouds break and the sun comes out. Because it’s warm, the rain isn’t as difficult to deal with as in many mainland locations. If you get wet, you’ll stay cool, and you’ll eventually dry off. I usually carry a small compact umbrella with me during the wet season. Unlike Hawaii and California, Cuba’s afternoon storms are often accompanied by dramatic thunder and lightning, adding even more intrigue and excitement to the Twilight Zone that is today’s Cuba.
The Cuban Emergency System has been shown to be very capable of carrying out large-scale evacuations, especially with regards to visitors. Newer beachfront hotels have been built to international safety standards. Unlike south Florida, Cuba is less populated and much more mountainous, so there are plenty of higher-elevation locations to escape storm surges.