Atlantic hurricane season begins soon – lasting from June 1 – Nov. 30. During this time, hurricanes can cause mass destruction hundreds of miles from where they originate, which means you don’t have to live on or close to the coast to feel its wrath. Dr. Mark Bourassa of the Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies at Florida State University shared his thoughts on the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season.
“We can expect it to be more active on average, there has always been a lot of variability in activity. We don’t expect that variability to change, so we are still going to get about the same distribution of below average, normal, and above-average years.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association has predicted 13 to 19 storms for the upcoming Atlantic season. An estimated six to ten of those storms will be classified as hurricanes. Three to six of those hurricanes could be major – ranging from a Category 3 to 5. The NOAA also predicts wind speeds up to 111 mph.
Bourassa went out to explain the contributing factors for the active upcoming season.
“One is that the sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are already warmer than usual. Warmer SSTs result in strong storms, for those cases when other factors are not inhibiting growth. Statistically speaking, this is a rather small impact because those there are often these other factors,” he explained.
“The other consideration is the overall weather patterns as influenced by ENSO. Conditions appear to be ENSO-neutral and might move into a La Nina phase, which is associated with a small increase in accuracy. Note that both the above impacts are rather small. While a stronger season is more likely, it is far from certain.”
Hurricane Stats & Dangers to Keep in Mind for 2020
Hurricane dangers can depend a lot on the person’s location. Here are a few statistics to consider nationally.
- 40% of U.S. directed hurricanes hit Florida
- A Category 5 storm can deliver wind speeds of more than 157 miles an hour
- Hurricane Katrina made landfall as a Category 3
- Katrina caused $125 billion in damages and 1,200 casualties
- Storm surge can reach 20 feet high and move several miles inland
Factors and impact can vary by storm and location – and many can be very unpredictable.
“Low near-coastal sites have to deal with stronger winds and surge. Further inland, flooding due to rain is a much bigger threat, but wind is still an issue,” Bourassa shared. “In areas with lots of trees, the impact of winds depends a lot on the health of the trees and the saturation of the ground. Locations on the side of hills are at more risk from high winds, as are higher locations.”
Make an Evacuation Plan
While Mother Nature is unpredictable, preparing for a hurricane before it makes landfall can help save your life. Here are a few steps to take today before a hurricane strikes your area. Start by identifying any nearby evacuation areas with your family, and pick one place to meet for safe shelter. Make plans for elderly, infant and pet needs during an evacuation. If your senior needs assistance, consider keeping a walker or wheelchair nearby to help them evacuate safely. And consider car seats for infants and crates or kennels for your pet.
Keep a list of nearby and distant emergency contacts to get in touch with just in case of an evacuation. Before receiving a hurricane evacuation warning, here are a few other ‘to-do’ items:
- Stock up on gas and keep your car full. In the event of a hurricane warning, there may be a shortage, so consider storing it in a gas can now safely outside of your home.
- Bring patio furniture and outdoor items inside. Leaving them outdoors may damage your home from wind gusts.
- Protect your home with sandbags and plywood to reduce damage from strong winds and flooding.
- Turn off gas, water and other utilities if your municipality recommends it.
Stock Up on Food and Supplies
Whether you plan to stay through the storm or evacuate, you should have the essentials ready. Pack a bag when a hurricane warning is issued. This way, if you need to evacuate, it’s one less thing to worry about. Pack at least three days worth of clothes, medication and non-perishable food. Start by stocking up on canned goods, they have a longer shelf life than the majority of fresh items that need to be cooked. Other foods that don’t need refrigeration are fruit, beef jerky, crackers and nuts. Other common items to pack include blankets, flashlights and hygiene items. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends storing at least five gallons of clean water per person as water may be contaminated. You’ll likely need water for drinking, bathing and medical needs. Here are a few other essentials the Department of Homeland Security recommends:
- Battery-powered radio or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) mobile app
- First-aid kit
- Cell phone chargers
- Infant and pet supplies as needed
If seniors have health conditions or ailments, pack your insurance cards and any prescribed medications for your health needs. If medicine needs to be kept cold, pack it in a small cooler or a plastic bag with an ice pack. And if you’re packing for your baby, don’t forget diapers, wipes and plastic bags for changing during evacuation.
Understand your Insurance Policies
Before a hurricane hits, understand what’s covered in your insurance policy. Coverage will depend on the damage, cause and your policy. During hurricanes, common home damage concerns stem from flooding, storm surges and winds. Keep in mind that deductibles for hurricanes and natural disasters may vary and there may be a maximum payout to help cover damages.
Some homes are in flood zones – which are more prone to damage after hurricanes. High-risk flood zone areas often require flood insurance – which isn’t included in renter and homeowner policies and must be purchased separately. Flood insurance can be purchased from your insurance agent if they’re a part of the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). If your agent isn’t a part of NFIP, FEMA can recommend one. Flood insurance policies often include a 30-day waiting period before the policy is activated and policies are often not sold during a hurricane watch or warning.
After you’ve evaluated your insurance policy, the South Carolina Department of Insurance recommends doing a room-by-room inventory of your home’s valuables for your insurance company to evaluate losses and damage easier. Take pictures and keep a running list of your valuables via email or safe cloud storage. Be sure to also make digital copies of any personal and pertinent information including your driver’s license, passport, and lease or mortgage documents.
Take Action on Alerts
FEMA Public Assistance Grant Program Task Force Leader, Cameron Horne, shared tips that he advises families, after evaluating damage from Hurricane Harvey in August 2017.
“Know who your local emergency management agency is,” he said. “At the end of the day, that agency is tied to everything you need – fire, police, everything. They’ll also be tied to your alerts that you need to know.”
FEMA provides a list each state’s emergency management agency and their contact information. Horne also encourages people to join a local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) to better prepare for disasters and emergencies and to assist others. CERTs also help citizens with preparedness information and tips including emergency kit item suggestions and alerts.
Start by downloading hurricane preparedness mobile apps for alerts anytime. A few popular apps include FEMA, Hurricane by the American Red Cross and iHeartRadio for local news. In addition to receiving alerts, Horne shared one final overlooked emergency preparedness tip – take action on alerts, even if it seems too soon.
“The message to be driven home, because it happens every disaster, is to heed the warnings,” he said. “People don’t listen to the warnings and that’s always the start of the problem. If they’re telling you what could happen, listen and take action. Don’t wait it out.”
Bourassa added to Horne’s thoughts that people rarely move out of the storm’s way and that they should stay prepared.
“It would be good to have all the key paperwork in a safe and weatherproof location. A lot of people buy food to prepare, but it is not food that they would want to eat. When thinking about supplies, buy things that you would want to use. I also recommend charging batteries, but I think that is getting more common.”
“This year, it might be important to be prepared to get online for classes with limited power,” he added.