As the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season draws to a close, it has been a year marked by significant disruptions due to an above-normal storm season. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported an active year with 20 named storms, including seven hurricanes, of which three were major hurricanes.
This activity ranks fourth in the number of named storms since 1950 and has had a notable impact on cruise itineraries and ports.
Hurricane Season’s Toll on Cruises
Hurricane season has officially closed, and cruise lines are ramping up on a busy Caribbean cruise season ahead. However, over the last few months, cruise lines have battled a hurricane season that has seen the fourth most named storms since 1950.
One of the most impactful storms was Hurricane Idalia, which intensified into a Category 4 hurricane before hitting Florida. It led to the closure of Port Canaveral, affecting operations for Oasis of the Seas and causing changes in the itineraries of other Florida-based ships.
However, with the storm arriving a few days before a busy Labor Day weekend, more significant issues were averted.
Similarly, Tropical Storm Ophelia’s landfall in North Carolina and Hurricane Lee’s transition into a post-tropical cyclone in Nova Scotia resulted in significant changes for Royal Caribbean International’s Vision of the Seas and Jewel of the Seas. The impacts of Tropical Storm Ophelia and Hurricane Lee are just some examples of the season’s intensity.
Matthew Rosencrans, NOAA’s lead hurricane forecaster: “The Atlantic basin produced the most named storms of any El Nino influenced year in the modern record. The record warm ocean temperatures in the Atlantic provided a strong counterbalance to the traditional El Nino impacts.”
Adapting to Unpredictable Seas
The most significant impact happened during the last ten days of September, when Hurricane Fiona hit the Caribbean basin, and Hurricane Ian swept over Florida with 155mph winds.
Several cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean International, Carnival Cruise Line, Virgin Voyages, and MSC Cruises, had to adapt swiftly to the changing conditions, which led to an influx of 17,000 passengers in Nassau, Bahamas, due to changing itineraries. Before that, at the end of August, another two Hurricanes played havoc on the itineraries of several cruise ships.
Hurricane Franklin, moving north-northeast and passing north of Bermuda, affected cruises departing from eastern homeports with Bermuda as their destination. This included adjustments to the itineraries of Carnival Magic, Carnival Legend, and Vision of the Seas, all redirected to different locations in the Bahamas instead of Bermuda.
At the same time, Hurricane Idalia, located north of western Cuba and moving toward Florida, caused disruptions to Western Caribbean cruises and affected Florida ports. Ships like Carnival Conquest, Carnival Valor, Disney Fantasy, Grandeur of the Seas, Wonder of the Seas, Celebrity Equinox, Scarlet Lady, and MSC Seaside all had to make significant changes to their itineraries.
Technological Advances in Weather Forecasting
NOAA’s advanced technology, including the new Hurricane Analysis and Forecast System and the GOES East geostationary satellite, played a crucial role in providing accurate forecasts and minimizing the effects that hurricanes had on cruises, besides itinerary changes.
These systems allowed cruise lines and port authorities to make informed decisions, minimizing risks to passengers and crew.
“NOAA’s intensity forecasts showed Hurricane Idalia as a major hurricane impacting the coast of Florida from early on August 28 through landfall two days later. This lead time gave those in threatened areas more time to prepare and respond,” NOAA said.
As the industry prepares for the 2024 season, lessons from this year’s challenges underscore the importance of being weather-ready. Using the technology that is available today effectively means that cruise lines have more chances and time to react, and, perhaps more importantly, it minimizes the risk of a ship having to sail through hurricane-force winds.
Even with the technology onboard today, and the safety measures that cruise lines take, the fact of the matter is that cruise ships are not designed for these types of weather.
The 2023 hurricane season serves as a reminder of the power of nature and the need for ongoing vigilance and adaptation in the cruise industry. Despite the challenges, cruise lines have ensured the safety and satisfaction of their guests, even with a nearly unmatched number of storms this year.