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Are your end-of-summer travel plans storm-proof?
It's a question worth considering as meteorologists assess if a weather system in the Caribbean could develop into a tropical depression or tropical storm (which would be named "Hermine"). As currently forecast, the system could approach Florida as a tropical storm, if not a hurricane, over the weekend, said Dan Leonard, a senior meteorologist with The Weather Company. From there, it could track up the Southeast coast or move into the Gulf Coast.
"It is increasing likely that some impacts, at a minimum heavy rains and gusty winds, will occur beginning this weekend," it wrote.
Leonard said travelers' best bet is to keep an eye on the forecast for now to gauge the storm's strength and path. There could be some weather impact of heavy rainfall in the southern or southeastern U.S. into late next week, when Labor Day traffic picks up.
"It's much too early to be cancelling plans at this point," he said.
For travelers worried about the prospects of that late summer or Labor Day trip, the first step is to check the cancellation and change policies for hotel, airfare and other travel components. Until there's a named storm, you're likely at the mercy of standard policies. Unless you booked a nonrefundable room, many hotels offer penalty-free cancellation with just a few days' notice; on airfare, a change fee typically applies.
As the storm's path becomes more set, travel providers may waive change fees and relax policies. Check the provider's travel advisory page.
Call customer service to plead your case even if a travel provider doesn't have a waiver on offer and the return policy seems ironclad. Reps may have some leeway to offer a refund or change waiver on a case-by-case basis, Jason Clampet, co-founder of travel site Skift.com, told CNBC.com earlier this year.
"Humans can always make choices at these travel brands," he said.
If you already bought travel insurance, call the provider to confirm coverage details.
Worries that there could be a hurricane typically aren't covered, unless you bought a cancel-for-any-reason policy, said Rachael Taft, a spokeswoman for travel insurance comparison site Squaremouth.com. Some policies allow for cancellation once there's a hurricane warning in effect for your destination; others may require a more substantial effect like a flight or cruise delay, or accommodations rendered uninhabitable because of the storm.
Policyholders usually also have coverage if storm-related travel delays cause problems (like a late flight that means you miss your cruise) or extra costs (meals at the airport or an extra night's lodging at your destination because there are no flights home).
The window is closing — but hasn't yet slammed shut — on buying a policy for the as-yet-unnamed storm.
"You can't buy a policy once a tropical storm or hurricane is named," said Taft. "At that point it's too late."
Given expectations that the system could quickly develop into a storm, it's worth buying your policy over the phone instead of online. Ask specifically about the worrisome weather.
"They'll usually know if a storm is named," Taft said — and confirm that you haven't missed the deadline to get coverage.