One downside to summer and fall vacations at Walt Disney World is tropical storm season. This post contains the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season forecast, tips for staying dry during rain & preparedness info for staying safe during Florida’s intense weather. (Updated July 4, 2021.)
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 next potential storm that will likely have an impact on Walt Disney World…
Hurricane Tropical Storm Elsa Update
After forming as a tropical storm and then being upgraded to a hurricane, Elsa has been downgraded to Tropical Storm Elsa once again. Regardless of status, Elsa continues its approach to Florida with a projected path that puts landfall near Tampa late Tuesday or early Wednesday and is projected to pass over Central Florida on the morning of Wednesday, July 7, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Tropical Storm Elsa’s maximum sustained winds increased to 65 mph with higher gusts, and is about 45 miles east of Kingston, Jamaica. Tropical Storm Elsa is forecast to gain speed to the west-northwest is expected over the next 24 to 36 hours. Elsa’s tropical storm level winds extend 140 miles from the center.
Elsa is expected to slow down after passing through the Caribbean. The storm is then expected to pass near Key West by late Monday or early Tuesday before heading north along Florida’s Gulf Coast all day Tuesday. Elsa’s cone of uncertainty includes the arrival of its eye over Central Florida by morning on July 7, 2021.
Before being downgraded, Hurricane Elsa’s development was over a month ahead of historic trends. On average, meteorologists observe the first hurricane formation of the season on August 10, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s database. This is also the farthest east a hurricane has ever developed this early into the season.
However, the National Hurricane Center has expressed significant doubt in the forecast. Meteorologists have lower than usual confidence in the current projection due to discrepancies in the storm tracking models. And normally there would not be a particularly high degree of confidence this far out.
This is not to say you should Let it Go and forget about Elsa (sorry, I just couldn’t help myself) when planning your upcoming trip to Walt Disney World. Rather, you should pack accordingly, be prepared for more rain than normal in the next week (and it has already been raining a lot lately), and continue monitoring the forecast. A lot could change and this is far enough out that we’re not remotely concerned–yet.
With that said, we’re expecting plenty of updates this storm season, and here’s why…
2021 ATLANTIC HURRICANE SEASON FORECAST
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released its 2021 Atlantic hurricane season forecast, which predicts 13 to 20 named storms will develop. This number includes tropical storms, which contain wind speeds of 39 mph or higher. Storms become hurricanes when winds reach 74 mph.
Additionally, the federal government is predicting 6 to 10 hurricanes. 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.
This would be the fifth consecutive year of above-average hurricane seasons. Last year was one of the most-active hurricane seasons on record, with storms occurring both earlier and later than normal. Ultimately, there were a record-breaking 30 storms, 13 hurricanes, and 6 major hurricanes. On the plus side, these caused “only” $60 billion worth of damage, which is a high amount but roughly half the total damage of the previous year.
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.
Atlantic hurricane season is off to an early start for the seventh consecutive year with subtropical storm Ana forming. 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. Additionally, researchers have found that larger, more deadly hurricanes are becoming increasingly likely due to climate change.
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…
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 List post.
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.
- Enchanted Tales with Belle – this interactive show is fun for kids, and has a decent-length pre-show, maximizing your time inside.
- 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.
- The Land Pavilion – in Future World, Innoventions is a popular pick for a place to go during storms, but the problem with that is that Innoventions is far less enjoyable than wandering around in the rain getting soaked. Go to The Land, instead. In an ideal world, you’d redeem your Soarin’ Around the World FastPass+, do the other two attractions in The Land, and have a meal at Sunshine Seasons or Garden Grill. If you have a bit of money, the Behind the Seeds at Epcot tour is a GREAT (and relatively inexpensive) way to kill an hour and a half or so, too. Doing all of those things is a good way to kill nearly half a day in one pavilion…which is hopefully enough time for the rain to pass!
- Impressions de France – the same could probably be said for the other World Showcase films, but this is one we can watch again and again; it’s so great that we consider it one of Walt Disney World’s most underrated attractions.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- Voyage of the Little Mermaid – the outdoor stage shows are likely to be canceled in the rain, so this is a next-
- MuppetVision 3D – awesome pre-show and awesome post-show; consider dining at Pizza Planet or Mama Melrose after the show to avoid rain.
- 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 Musical – the wait for this 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.
For where to eat, try out our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews page. If you want to save money on tickets or determine which type you should get, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at unconventional things you should take on your trip. Once you arrive at the parks, our Walt Disney World “Ride Guides”are great for determining what to do and when to do it. For overviews of all of these topics and so much more, the best place to start is our comprehensive Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide to make the most of your experience!
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!