By Noelle H. Lowery
It is that time of year again.
Hurricane season is upon us, and according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it is going to be a whopper of a season. The official forecast is for “an active or extremely active season this year.” For the six-month hurricane season, which begins June 1, NOAA’s Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook says there is a 70 percent likelihood of 13 to 20 named storms, of which 7 to 11 could become hurricanes, including 3 to 6 major hurricanes. Named storms track winds of 39 mph or higher, and when winds hit 74 mph, the storm officially is tagged a hurricane. Major hurricanes — Category 3, 4 or 5 — post winds of 111 mph or higher. According to NOAA forecasters, these ranges are well above the seasonal average of 12 named storms, 6 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes. “This year, oceanic and atmospheric conditions in the Atlantic basin are expected to produce more and stronger hurricanes,” says Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.
The 2012 season left Marco Island city officials and residents breathing a sigh of relief. Just two named storms — Debbie and Isaac — swept through the area, soaking the island but leaving little damage in their wake.
According to Chris Byrne, Marco Island’s Deputy Fire Chief, Isaac tore a hurricane screen at the North Utility Plant and damaged a bollard light at Mackle Park. “The City’s expenses were primarily related to the costs of storm preparation. We mobilized the EOC and all of the city departments to prepare for the arrival of Isaac,” explains Byrne.
To help foot the bill for the preparation, though, the city submitted a claim to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the amount of $67,564. FEMA is set to pay 75 percent, or $50,673, while the state of Florida and the city are each obligated to cover the remaining 25 percent equally. To date, the city has not received any payments.
This year’s forecast is fueled by three climate factors, NOAA forecasters claim. First, there is a continuation of the atmospheric climate pattern of a strong west African monsoon, which has been responsible for the ongoing era of high activity for Atlantic hurricanes since 1995.
Second, water temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea continue to be warmer-than-average, and third, El Niño is not expected to develop and suppress hurricane formation.
These components coupled with the fresh reminder of the devastation of Hurricane Sandy will have forecasters and emergency management personnel on high alert for the next six months, with the focus extending past the landfall of a storm.
“As we saw first-hand with Sandy, it’s important to remember that tropical storm and hurricane impacts are not limited to the coastline,” explains Kathryn Sullivan, Ph.D., NOAA Acting Administrator. “Strong winds, torrential rain, flooding and tornadoes often threaten inland areas far from where the storm first makes landfall.”
The bottom line is to be prepared for any eventuality. Create a family emergency plan. Put together a hurricane supply kit. Know where hurricane shelters and evacuation routes are located. Prepare all vehicles and marine equipment. Protect all personal important documents and keep them handy. If pets are in the picture, have a plan for them as well.
To help keep folks informed of pending storms, NOAA has made improvements to forecast models and data gathering, and the National Hurricane Center has beefed up its communication procedure for post-tropical cyclones. In July, NOAA will bring online a new supercomputer to run an upgraded Hurricane Weather Research and Forecasting model. This will provide enhanced depiction of storm structure and improved storm intensity forecast guidance. Additionally, Doppler radar data will be transmitted in real time from NOAA’s Hurricane Hunter Aircraft to help forecasters better analyze rapidly evolving storm conditions.
“The start of hurricane season is a reminder that our families, businesses and communities need to be ready for the next big storm,” notes Joe Nimmich, FEMA Associate Administrator for Response and Recovery. “Preparedness today can make a big difference down the line, so update your family emergency plan and make sure your emergency kit is stocked.”