Guidance

Tropical cyclones

Advice for British nationals travelling or living in areas susceptible to hurricanes, typhoons or tropical cyclones.

Overview

Tropical cyclones, also called typhoons and hurricanes, usually occur at predictable times of year in distinct parts of the world.

If you’re travelling or living in these areas, it is important that you prepare effectively and know what to do if you’re likely to be affected by a tropical cyclone.

When and where tropical cyclones occur

Tropical cyclones feed on heat that is released when moist air rises. So ‘hurricane season’ coincides with the months in which an area of sea is at its warmest:

  • June – November in the Northern Hemisphere Tropics (Caribbean, Atlantic, South East Asia, Pacific, Far East)
  • November – April in the Southern Hemisphere Tropics (eg East Africa coast)

The difference between a hurricane, typhoon, or tropical cyclone

There is no difference. The term ‘hurricane’ is usually restricted to the Atlantic and north-east Pacific region. In the north-west Pacific, they are known as ‘typhoons’ and elsewhere simply as ‘cyclones’. Collectively, they’re often referred to as ‘tropical cyclones’.

Wind speed is used to categorise a tropical cyclone:

  • less than 34 knots (39mph) - tropical depression
  • more than 34 knots - tropical storm and given a name
  • more than 64 knots (74mph) - designated either a hurricane, typhoon, severe tropical cyclone, severe cyclonic storm or tropical cyclone depending where it is in the world

The strength of hurricanes is categorised on a scale of 1 to 5, with category 1 being over 64 knots (74mph) and category 5 over 135 knots (156 mph).

Forecasting

It’s difficult to accurately predict where, when and at what strength a tropical cyclone will strike, as they often veer off-course, change their tracking speed and intensify or weaken quite suddenly. Tropical storms lose their strength as they move over land.

The range of error in the forecast of the path of a tropical storm can be significant. Even just a day before the storm arrives, the forecast can have a margin of error of 50 miles.

The Met Office has details and statistics relating to tropical cyclone activity in previous years.

How to prepare

If you’re travelling to, or living in, a cyclone region during the tropical cyclone season, remain alert as to the risk of tropical cyclones. You should:

  • make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance before you travel
  • monitor the progress of approaching storms using websites such as the US National Hurricane Centre, as well as local weather and media reports
  • find out more about local procedures, such as the location of any shelters, by speaking to your tour operator, hotel or local authorities
  • keep up-to-date with Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) travel advice by signing up to email alerts for the country you’re in
  • read our guidance about how to deal with a crisis overseas
  • check with your tour operator and travel insurance provider if you need information on their terms and conditions for changes or cancellations if your destination is affected by a tropical cyclone before or during your trip

What to do if a tropical cyclone is coming

If you become aware of a tropical cyclone that is forecast to affect the country you’re in, you should:

  • check FCO country travel advice
  • keep in touch with your travel/tour operator and your hotel (where applicable)
  • monitor local radio, TV and press
  • follow the advice of local authorities, including any evacuation orders
  • check in with family and friends in the UK
  • be prepared in case you need to move to a safe place at short notice – keep any essential items and supplies (such as travel documents and essential medication) together

Remember that airports and hotels may shut down if a hurricane approaches.

The effects of a tropical cyclone

Tropical cyclones can be dangerous in a number of ways:

  • high winds: buildings can be damaged or destroyed; trees, power and telephone lines toppled; debris turns into projectiles
  • storm surge: a hurricane can provoke a temporary rise in sea level of several metres which can flood coastal areas and damage buildings on the shoreline
  • very heavy rainfall: this can cause localised or widespread flooding and mudslides

Tropical cyclones can seriously damage and disrupt a country’s infrastructure, including buildings, roads and communications. Once a tropical cyclone has passed, you should remain vigilant and aware of possible risks relating to damaged buildings or other infrastructure.

It may take time for airports to re-open, and there may be serious shortages of accommodation, food, water and health facilities. Our ability to help British nationals may be limited (perhaps severely) in these circumstances. We do not have Embassies in every location likely to be affected by hurricanes, for example some islands in the Caribbean, and this is likely to also have an impact on the level of assistance we can provide in certain places.

Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) travel advice before, during and after a tropical cyclone

Our travel advice will be updated regularly to reflect the latest information about a tropical cyclone that is forecast to pass over a populated area. This includes global reporting on severe weather systems from the UK Met Office, as well as regional sources such as the US National Hurricane Centre. To make sure you receive the latest travel advice, you may wish to sign up for our email alert service. You can do this in the relevant country travel advice page. Information can change rapidly, so you should also continue to monitor the local media and local advice.

The FCO will only advise against travel to an area or region if the risks of travel there are considered unacceptably high. A number of factors are used to reach this decision. You can find more information about how the FCO puts travel advice together in our About Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice guidance page.

Published 22 March 2013
Last updated 13 June 2018 + show all updates
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