One downside to summer and fall vacations at Walt Disney World is storm season. This post contains the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season forecast, updates on potential major Category 3 Hurricane Ian, tips for staying dry during rain & preparedness info for staying safe during Florida’s intense weather. (Updated September 25, 2022 at 11:30 am EST.)
In recent years, Hurricanes Dorian, Matthew, and Irma have all impacted the parks and resorts to varying degrees–in some cases, causing multi-day closures. This is definitely something to be cognizant of before booking your trip. This isn’t to say you should avoid September or other peak hurricane months, but it’s important to be aware of while weighing the pros and cons of various times to visit.
In an average year, the NOAA forecasts around 15 named storms. While this is a lot of storms, it’s highly unlikely that any of these will make landfall and subsequently significantly impact Walt Disney World. While it’s still uncommon to face park closures due to storms, it has happened several times. However, even storms hundreds of miles off the coast can make for long, rainy days–rather than the normal afternoon showers that are a fact of life in Florida during the summer and fall.
In other words, if you’re visiting Walt Disney World during the storm season months of June through November, it’s good to be prepared. If you’re visiting in August or September, it’s also key to have a plan for more major storms.
Let’s start with a look at the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season forecast and how it could have an impact on Walt Disney World…
Tropical Storm Ian Updates
Tropical Storm Ian is expected to “rapidly intensify” today and grow into a major hurricane within the next 48 hours, potentially as early as this evening. This is according to the National Hurricane Center, which made the forecast during its 11 am Tropical Storm Ian update on September 25, 2022.
Note: This post previously identified this storm system as potential Hurricane Hermine or Tropical Depression 9. It has since become a tropical storm, but another storm beat it to the punch on taking the name Hermine, so it’ll become Hurricane Ian once it reaches that status.
The National Hurricane Center’s latest forecast further states that the atmospheric and oceanic conditions over the northwestern Caribbean Sea appear “very conducive for significant strengthening.”
Once Ian becomes more organized, the high oceanic heat content and low vertical shear conditions appear likely to support rapid intensification. This portion of the NHC’s forecast has a 90%+ degree of certainty.
In general, NHC has a relatively high confidence in the near-term forecast for Tropical Storm Ian’s trajectory and intensification.
However, once the cyclone emerges over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico, the spread in the track guidance increases at days 3-5. Accordingly, there is still “significant uncertainty” in the long-range forecast for Ian, and future adjustments to this portion of the forecast will likely be required according to the NHC.
The National Hurricane Center notes that spaghetti models show a higher degree of uncertainty than usual, with all agreeing that Hurricane Ian will eventually hit Florida, but not on where or when. An increasing number of the computer models are projecting that the storm tracks west, making landfall along the panhandle.
By contrast, several multiple still show Hurricane Ian making landfall in west-central Florida. There’s a difference of 220-250 miles between the model tracks in the forecast for day 4-5 for Ian, according to the NHC. Overall, the NHC track forecast remains near the center of the guidance envelope and still lies very near the TVCA multi-model consensus.
Here’s the National Hurricane Center’s key message for Florida about potential Hurricane Ian: “Ian is expected to produce heavy rainfall, plus flash and urban flooding across the Florida peninsula through mid week. Ian is expected to be a major hurricane in the eastern Gulf of Mexico during the middle of the week, but uncertainty in the long-term track and intensity forecasts is higher than usual.
Regardless of Ian’s exact track and intensity, there is a risk of dangerous storm surge, hurricane-force winds, and heavy rainfall along the west coast of Florida and the Florida Panhandle by the middle of the week, and residents in Florida should ensure they have their hurricane plan in place, follow any advice given by local officials, and closely monitor updates to the forecast.”
While the path is not certain, local meteorologists and emergency management agencies are already advising Floridians to begin hurricane prep this weekend.
To that point, there’s already been a lot of rain in Central Florida recently, and some counties have already started sandbag services and are preparing shelters in the event that they’re necessary. In the meantime, it’s advised that residents stock up on supplies–canned food, bottled water, gas in generators, etc–out of an abundance of caution.
The forecast for Tropical Storm Ian developing into a major Category 3 hurricane prompted Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency in 24 counties. DeSantis requested a federal emergency declaration ahead of landfall that would free up funding sources for emergency protective measures.
This includes Osceola County, which is one of two counties that Walt Disney World calls home. The other, Orange County, is not included in the emergency declaration.
With that said, we’re not attempting to be alarmists. There’s still plenty of time for potential Hurricane Ian to alter course, and we’ve seen exactly that outcome with several past storms–both this year and previously with major systems that had model consensus of coming through Central Florida. Nevertheless, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and be prepared rather than not taking a major storm system seriously.
Even in the very best case scenario, Hurricane Ian will bring heavier than normal precipitation to Central Florida, meaning that–at best–it’s going to an even rainier week at Walt Disney World. That’s saying a lot, as it’s been quite wet of late. You’ll definitely want to keep an eye on Hurricane Ian if you’re currently planning to be in the parks next week. At minimum, come prepared for heavy rain, as Walt Disney World is now in the heart of tropical storm season!
We’ll keep this section updated with new updates from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Hurricane Center as they’re issued. What follows is the rest of our general advice on visiting Walt Disney World during storm season, starting with the 2022 forecast…
2022 ATLANTIC HURRICANE SEASON FORECAST
Meteorologists are predicting the 7th straight above-average Atlantic hurricane season in 2022. (Side note: at what point does above-average become the new normal? Doesn’t seem like this trend is reversing anytime soon!) While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has not yet released its ‘official’ forecast, several universities and institutions have issued theirs.
The consensus calls for activity that’s above 130% higher than normal, with at least 19 named storms. This number includes tropical storms, which contain wind speeds of 39 mph or higher. Once again, meteorologists are attributing the increase to the climatological phenomenon known as La Niña. When a La Niña phase is present, the amount of vertical wind shear in the atmosphere is essentially more conducive to the development of tropical cyclones and their movement.
Additionally, scientists are predicting 7 to 10 hurricanes during the 2022 Atlantic storm season. Storms become hurricanes when their winds reach 74 mph. Of those, three to five could be major hurricanes, packing wind speeds of 111 mph or higher. In a historically-average year, there would be 12 tropical storms, 6 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes.
The past two hurricane seasons have also been well above-average, reaching historic proportions (as predicted) with storms occurring both earlier and later than normal. The 2020 hurricane season ended with a record-breaking 30 storms, 13 hurricanes, and 6 major hurricanes. Last year was not quite as bad–with 21 named storms–but still the third most active on record in terms of named systems.
On the plus side, the last two years have been less devastating. Last year’s hurricane season resulted in “only” $70 billion, with $60 billion worth of damage in 2020. That still puts both in the top 5, but at less than half the total of the 2017 hurricane season.
Experts and meteorologists use water data from the Caribbean Sea and areas east of the Bahamas to make their predictions. While these predictions occur months before the official start of storm season, they’re typically right on the money.
In the last few years, the number of tropical storms, hurricanes, and major hurricanes have fallen within (or above) their predicted ranges. It’s important to note that these are not predictions for Florida in particular, just the Atlantic hurricane season, generally. Experts cannot predict when or where these storms will occur.
In the last few years, there has been debate among scientists about expanding hurricane season from its from June 1 start date and November 30 end. Hurricanes are becoming larger and more powerful due to the increased likelihood that they’ll form over hotter ocean water. Due to climate change, global sea-surface temperatures are rising.
What follows is the rest of our general advice on visiting Walt Disney World during storm season–and our experience staying at Walt Disney World while the parks closed due to a hurricane…
Our Hurricane Experience
There is ample reason for trepidation if you’re thinking of visiting Walt Disney World in the summer or fall. As Hurricane Dorian, Matthew, and Irma demonstrated, these Atlantic storms have the potential to dramatically alter a vacation. The past is the best predictor of the future, so seeing how Disney dealt with Hurricanes Irma & Matthew could be helpful if you’re concerned about a hurricane impacting your Walt Disney World vacation during storm season.
Hurricane Irma caused Walt Disney World to be closed for two full days and resulted in some damage around the resort. As noted above, we got stuck in Walt Disney World after our Disney Cruise Line Bahamas sailing was canceled (and we were unable to rebook our flight due to the mass exodus of people trying to leave Florida).
You can read about that in Our Hurricane Irma Experience at Walt Disney World, which is like a trip report…but with none of the normal fun stuff, like attractions. It covers what we did to prepare for the storm, how Walt Disney World’s “ride out” Cast Members handled operations, and much more.
What you need to know for rainy days versus during hurricanes and tropical storms is radically different. With the exception of certain attractions and entertainment that might shut down for regular storms, it’s business as usual for Walt Disney World during the rain. That’s not the case during hurricanes and tropical storms, when operations can be brought to a screeching halt. Luckily, that’s very uncommon.
Although the prospect of visiting during rain or hurricane season might be unsettling, there also is some upside, as you’ll read…so it’s not all bad. Let’s take a look at how to prepare for, and deal with, summer storms at Walt Disney World; from regular small storms to tropical storms to even hurricanes. Let’s start with what you need to know for the worst case scenario…
Hurricane History, Official Policies, Preparedness Tips & Info
Hurricanes have caused Walt Disney World to close on six occasions. In 1999 for Hurricane Floyd; in 2004 on separate occasions in a six-week span for Hurricanes Frances, Charley, and Jeanne; in 2005 for Hurricane Wilma; in 2016 for Hurricane Matthew; and, finally, in 2017 for Hurricane Irma.
That’s an average of about one closure per decade…plus two in the last three years. Suffice to say, the odds are against your trip to Walt Disney World being severely impacted by a hurricane. Nevertheless, storms are becoming increasingly common.
I’ve heard of some travel agents strongly encouraging guests to purchase travel insurance if visiting Walt Disney World in late summer or early fall. I can’t say that I agree with that advice, but then again, I’m not risk averse. We only purchase travel insurance when going abroad, and that’s only in case I get in a fight with a monkey and have to be hospitalized. With that said, here’s what you need to know if a hurricane or tropical storm is forecast during your visit.
Walt Disney World has a Hurricane Policy that will allow you to get a refund on any package booked through Disney. Of course, this won’t cover your airfare. Fortunately, recent storms have caused significant changes in severe storm policies among major airlines, so that shouldn’t be an issue, either. If that leaves any gaps in expenses you’ve paid for, any decent credit card will have you covered.
If you normally purchase travel insurance anyway, or you still want travel insurance specifically for hurricane season, make sure you get coverage that actually will do something for you in the event of hurricanes or storms. Most basic policies do not provide coverage for weather, so you’ll want to actually read the policy before you buy. In most cases, you’re going to have to purchase a more expensive policy that allows cancellation for any reason.
Beyond monetary loss, there’s the issue of safety, particularly during hurricanes. In terms of safety, Walt Disney World was built for strict compliance with hurricane readiness standards and has earned “StormReady” status from the NOAA. for this type of thing (regardless of how uncommon they are). In terms of preparedness, Disney is absolutely on the ball.
You literally wouldn’t be able to leave your room without receiving a status update of what’s going on, how operations will be affected, and what to do in case of an emergency. There are also notices up around the resorts and in-room televisions have more information than you’re likely to need on Disney’s channels.
Disney errs on the side of caution with this stuff, and you’d pretty much have to bury your head in the sand to not know what’s going on. You really won’t need anything beyond the information Walt Disney World will provide to you in order to keep safe, but if you want to be especially safe, we recommend reviewing FloridaDisaster.org’s information, including on evacuation routes.
Additionally, we recommend having at least a three-day supply of food, water and medicine on hand. Also, before the storm approaches, ensure cell-phones and other devices are fully charged (including external battery packs) in case of electrical power loss.
Storm Season Packing
When packing for a trip during storm season, you’ll want to make sure you come prepared in terms of rainwear and footwear. In terms of rainwear, you could pay $79.56 (slight exaggeration–only slight) for a poncho in the parks, or you could bring your own. You should instead get a cheap 10-pack of ponchos that are serviceable before your trip (or two 10-packs, depending upon how many people are in your group).
If you want something more robust that will keep you dry and is re-usable, get this rainsuit. It’s the one I’m wearing above, and I swear by it for rainy days in the parks. It’s a lightweight material that doesn’t get too hot, and keeps me totally dry. I’ll readily admit that it looks totally dorky, but my priority when it’s raining is to stay dry, not be a fashion icon. I recommend this rainsuit over even an umbrella, as it’s simpler and more effective (and less likely to break in the sometimes high winds in the parks).
Second, footwear. Nothing is worse than walking miles around Walt Disney World in wet shoes. Trust me. Popular options to avoid this problem are traditional Crocs cogs. Personally, I prefer Crocs sandals because they don’t quite scream “80 year old hospital patient” quite as much. If you’re more serious about your footwear, consider hybrid water/athletic shoes; the best options we’ve found here are the Teva Churn (for men) and RYKA Hydro (for women).
Finally, accessorize with a Frogg Toggs Chilly Pad. This isn’t for the rain itself, but the heat and humidity that come once the rain leaves. Trust me on this once. These things do wonders for cooling you down, and readers of this blog are big fans of them, as can be evidenced by the comments to our Unique Disney Parks Packing Listpost.
Regular Rain Showers
There’s a real-world adage that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. If applied to Walt Disney World, that adage would probably be that the only certainties are a 3 o’clock parade and an afternoon shower. Short afternoon showers are fairly regular in Walt Disney World any time of the year, but during the summer and early fall, they are especially common. Plus, unlike the spring showers that might last for 10 minutes before the sun returns, summer storms can be marathon downpours that don’t relent for a few hours.
The prospect of rain should not keep you out of the parks (let alone from not visiting Walt Disney World during these months), as proper packing will make touring during rainy season a breeze. Plus, the rain will scare plenty of other guests away, so a nice afternoon shower might be just the thing to lower those crowds for you. (Although rain isn’t nearly as effective in Walt Disney World as it is in Disneyland–a light sprinkle there and all of the SoCal locals run for the exits!)
If it’s raining when you get up or the forecast is calling for a lot of rain on a particular day of your trip, we recommend going about your day as you normally would. We know, we know, this flies in the face of the “visit Disney Springs” advice offered by a lot of people, but we disagree with that advice.
To us, going to Disney Springs in the rain instead of a theme park doesn’t make a ton of sense. Besides the huge World of Disney, which is approximately twice the size of Manhattan or something like that, you’re going to spend less time in each shop than you would in a single attraction. This means just as much or more time outdoors in the rain than at a theme park.
If we weren’t going to go to the regular parks, we’d go to the water parks. I mean, why not? You’re going to get wet there anyway, so what’s a little rain? We’ve been to Blizzard Beach when it started raining, and for some reason, the place cleared out! If you don’t want to go to a theme park or a water park, consider your hotel’s pool. If you really, really hate the rain, wander around your resort (have a meal?).
Unless you’re from SoCal and are thus scared of rain, there’s no reason to let the rain completely derail your plans. If it’s raining, lots of other guests won’t be in the parks, so you’ll be able to do more than normal! If you do want to go to the parks, but don’t want to get wet, here are some things to do in the parks while it’s raining to minimize your outdoor exposure.
Carousel of Progress – Rarely has a line meaning you can ride repeatedly if you’d like.
Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover – Lengthy, covered ride that gives you a birds’ eye view of rain status.
Country Bear Jamboree – Grab a snack or meal at Pecos Bill after, as the attraction dumps you out right there.
Hall of Presidents – Grab a waffle sandwich or dessert at Sleepy Hollow and take it to the covered seating area after.
Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room – Shortest show on this list, but it has a covered pre-show, too.
American Adventure – Another place that can eat an hour when you combine the Voices of Liberty with the show. If it’s still raining after the show ends, go back in to take a look at the art in the lobby gallery.
MuppetVision 3D – Awesome pre-show and awesome post-show; consider dining at PizzeRizzo or Mama Melrose after the show to avoid rain.
Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance – A long line, most of which is indoors, makes this a good option during storms.
Walt Disney Presents – Possibly the best option in all of Walt Disney World if you’re a serious Disney fan and it’s raining; you could easily spend a few hours in here combing over the displays and watching the film.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Finding Nemo: The Big Blue…and Beyond! – The wait for this musical is outdoors, so show up no more than 10 minutes before a show is scheduled to start; you should have no trouble getting in when it’s raining.
Festival of the Lion King – A long, indoor show; covered character meet & greets are nearby to kill time, too.
Avatar Flight of Passage – Not so much a long attraction…but an attraction with a really long, indoor queue. That’ll work!
??? – If you can avoid going to Animal Kingdom when it’s raining or a lot of rain is in the forecast, that might be best. It’s definitely most enjoyable in nice weather.
Even after our experience with hurricanes and tropical storms at Walt Disney World, we’d have no hesitation to book trips to Florida in the months of August through October, during the height of potential hurricane or tropical storm season. A good attitude to have when the weather gets bad (or when anything goes wrong, for that matter), is that a rainy day at Walt Disney World is better than a normal day at home. Roll with the punches, improvise, and have a good time. Just think, at the very least…rain makes the parks less crowded.
Do you agree with our mentality about visiting Walt Disney World when it’s raining? Which activities or attractions do you recommend when it’s raining? How do you feel about the controversial subject of travel insurance? Do you have any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!