By LOIS KINDLE
The National Weather Service has just announced NOAA’s forecast for this year’s Atlantic hurricane season, and it’s expected to be a busy one.
Between June 1 and Nov. 30, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting 13 to 19 named storms with winds of 39 mph or higher, including six to 10 with the potential of developing into hurricanes with winds of 74 mph or higher. Of those, three to six are predicted to become category 3, 4 or 5 hurricanes with winds of 111 mph or higher.
NOAA is 70% confident in this year’s forecast.
By way of comparison, an average hurricane season produces 12 named storms, six of them hurricanes, including three majors.
“As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, in a national Weather Service email dated May 21. “Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe.”
Dan Noah, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Tampa Bay Area office, said there are several reasons for the above-normal season prediction.
“La Nina, which cools Pacific waters and deflects the jet stream, is predicted to develop during the peak of the season, ” he noted. “This will mean weaker winds aloft, which hurricanes like.”
According to NOAA’s Prediction Center, somewhat above normal sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea will fuel more storms. This factor, “reduced vertical wind shear, weaker tropical Atlantic trade winds and an enhanced west African monsoon” are predicted to increase the odds for a busy Atlantic season.
The center said similar conditions have been producing more active seasons since 1995, the year we had 27 named storms and everywhere in Florida got hit, except for Tampa Bay.
The last major hurricane in the Tampa Bay area was in 1921, before that 1848, Noah said. Three major hurricanes have hit the state during the past three years: Matthew in 2016, Irma in 2017 and Michael in 2018. The storms caused $265 billion in damages.
“Statistically, we have a 1 in 200 chance of a major hurricane hitting us,” he continued. “You could live your entire life here and never see one.
“Irma in 2017 was a scare,” Noah said. “If she had stayed 30 miles out (in the Gulf of Mexico) as she was originally headed, we would have had a big one.”
Despite the long odds, Noah says the same thing every year. It only takes one to change wreak havoc.
“Even a strong tropical storm can cause heartache all along the coastline in Ruskin, Apollo Beach and Gibsonton and anywhere along our rivers in South Shore,” he said. “Storm surge is our biggest threat, but many times flooding rain kills more people than anything else. Wherever water flows, homes can [be] washed off their foundations; wherever the [water] piles up, we see massive flooding.”
Make your plan now
“It’s imperative to have a plan in place and a hurricane kit,” Noah said. “You should know whether or not you’re in an evacuation zone, what the storm surge could be if you are and where the shelters are should you need to evacuate.
“With the pandemic, it’s a whole new game this year,” he added. “Shelter space will be at a premium so, if you can, it’s better to go stay with a relative, friend or neighbor who lives out of the flood zone.”
Considering COVID-19, another important thing to remember is to be prepared with supplies of food and virus protections.
“For a hurricane, you prepare for electrical outages and no running water,” Noah said.
The following items are recommended by the Department of Homeland Security for your hurricane kit this year:
∙ Water, one gallon per person per day for at least three days for drinking and sanitation
∙ Food, a three-day or more supply of nonperishables
∙ Battery-powered or hand crank radio
∙ NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
∙ First aid kit
∙ Extra batteries
∙ Whistle to signal for help
∙ Dust mask to help filter contaminated air
∙ Plastic sheeting and duct tape for sheltering in place
∙ Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
∙ Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
∙ Manual can opener
∙ Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery
Additional emergency supplies
The CDC has recommended you include these additional items in your kit to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, other viruses and the flu:
∙ Cloth face coverings for everyone ages 2 and older
∙ Soap, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes to disinfect surfaces
You should also include, as applicable for your situation:
∙ Prescription medications
∙ Nonprescription medications, such as pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medication, antacids or laxatives
∙ Prescription eyeglasses, contact lens solution
∙ Infant formula, bottles, diapers, wipes and diaper rash cream
∙ Pet food and extra water for your pet
∙ Cash or traveler’s checks
∙ Important family documents like copies of insurance policies, IDs and bank account records saved electronically or in a waterproof, portable container
∙ Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
∙ Complete change of clothing appropriate for the climate and sturdy shoes
∙ Fire extinguisher
∙ Matches in a waterproof container
∙ Feminine hygiene supplies
∙ Paper cups, plates, paper towels and plastic utensils and a garbage bag for their disposal
∙ Paper and pencil
∙ Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children
For more information, visit www.ready.gov/kit.