The Atlantic Hurricane Season starts officially on June 1st and runs through until November 30th. Peak of the season is from middle of August to the end of September. Hurricanes threatening or even hitting a US territory are always front-page news and these storms are on the mind of everyone who plans to visit the tropics during the summer months.
Let us start with the conclusion of this article: "Come and visit St. Maarten during hurricane season!" The chance to experience a storm is tiny, prices are low and the weather usually picture perfect and by far not as hot as the US in summer.
But what happens IF a storm comes, you ask?
Weather disturbances develop off the coast of West Africa, travel the Atlantic Ocean and are fueled by hot ocean water to turn into powerful cyclones. More hurricanes reach the US mainland than touch the Lesser Antilles. Small islands have one big advantage in case of a storm: a surge doesn't build up, because water can flow around the land mass. St. Maarten/St. Martin went through a major disaster in September 1995 with Hurricane Luis. Much has been improved following the lessons of Luis: utilities are now mostly underground, all new construction is definitely fully hurricane proof, and all buildings older than 20 years have proven their strength, because they survived the monstrous Luis.
Hurricanes look impressive on satellite images, but their actual size is somewhat more compact: only a path about 50 to 80 miles wide has the power for true destruction. On a geographical scale, this is a relatively narrow trail. Several years ago, the eye of the major Hurricane Ivan missed Sint Maarten by about 140 miles, but we didn't get any wind, just ocean swells.
What are the dangers for a visitor? In case of a major hurricane and a direct hit, the resort you are staying at will advise you of safety procedure. All resorts can handle the high winds, but you might be inconvenienced by spotty power services, low water pressure and cut-off communications. All major resorts have full generator back-up, some even their own water plants. Will your life be in danger? Not likely, as the experiences of the past hurricanes hitting the island have shown. Only a fool will explore the beach in the middle of a blow or roam the streets. As long as you stay indoors and let it "blow over", you'll be okay. And you will bring back home the incredible memory of having experienced a hurricane!
Hurricanes of categories 1 and 2 should not do more than ruffle the region's feathers a little. Category 3 is more serious and if you experience it on island, you might have several days of bad weather and a lot of beach erosion. The damage of categories 4 and 5 can't be predicted anymore, but the advanced utilities infrastructure will allow St. Maarten to survive much better than most regions in the US.
Public assistance: the performance of the French and Dutch governments to the Hurricane Luis disaster in 1995 ago was spectacular. The wind had stopped blowing only for a few short hours, the dazed population hadn't even crawled out of their shattered homes yet, but there was a steady stream of huge military cargo planes landing at Princess Juliana Airport.
The island was secured, food distributed, even small amounts of gasoline handed out and especially on the French side services installed rapidly. There was never fear of running out of water or food.
The real 'bottom line': In case of a storm, play it save and listen to resort management. But there is no reason to avoid our beautiful Antillean islands during hurricane season. The very slight risk of having bad weather is certainly set off by the much, much lower prices during this part of the year.