The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season officially starts on Monday, but ominously, it has already broken one record, and there are fears it may break another.
Tropical storm Arthur formed May 16 off Florida’s east coast. It marked the sixth season in a row with an early storm and predictions are that this will be the fifth consecutive above-average season. If is happens it will beat the previous record of four consecutive seasons from 1998 to 2001.
Tropical systems have been observed in every month of the year over the Atlantic, and May is no stranger to the formation of tropical systems, especially in recent years.
In 2019, subtropical Storm Andrea formed on May 20, just east of the Bahamas before luckily dissipating the next day. Sadly for the Bahamas though, Dorian smashed through it last September, destroying numerous homes and displacing thousands.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center announced that between 13 and 19 named storms and as many as six major hurricanes could pass at a time when the Caribbean and the United States is already reeling from COVID-19.
In the US, disaster preparedness experts say it’s critically important for people in evacuation zones to plan to stay with friends or family, rather than end up in shelters during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Shelters are meant to keep you safe, not make you comfortable,” said Carlos Castillo, acting deputy administrator for resilience at FEMA.
La Niña is one extreme of a climate pattern that affects hurricane formation. The other extreme, El Niño, is known to depress hurricane formation in the Atlantic.
The latest update from NOAA shows a 50 percent chance that the Atlantic will remain right in the middle of the two extremes, in what’s known as neutral conditions. But there’s also a 40 percent chance that a La Niña could develop.
Previous forecasts this year have also called for an active season, in part due to the way April’s record-breaking heat warmed up the swath of Atlantic Ocean where hurricanes often form and the potential formation of La Niña.
“It is not possible to predict how many of these potential storms will hit land,” said acting NOAA administrator Neil Jacobs. That will become clearer as each individual storm is tracked by the National Hurricane Center.
Unlike other years, a hurricane making landfall carries extra risk this year as the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the US. Thankfully, it is under control in the Caribbean with many islands locking down. Caribbean nations have entered a crucial phase though because as they open their economy and airports, the danger of re-infection is the danger.
Emergency managers worry that people told to evacuate when a hurricane is coming won’t feel safe in a crowded shelter.
In Cayman, a minor storm may knock out the power for a few days and produce some flooding, while a major storm could call for evacuation. Both require planning ahead and being prepared. Early preparations should include gathering supplies for an evacuation or sheltering in place, making a family plan and testing storm protection equipment in advance, like storm shutters and generators. CUC is primed for hurricane damage.
It’s recommended a minimum three-day supply of water per person, along with a good supply of non-perishable food items and dry goods. Other suggestions include required medications, battery-powered or hand-crank radio, flashlights with batteries, cell phone chargers, clothes and pet supplies. Residents should also gather together important documents.
The family plan should include an evacuation plan, in the case of a major storm - where will you go, who will you stay with - as well as a sheltering-in-place plan if you plan to stay for minor storms. Cayman residents who lived through Hurricane Ivan in 2004 are most aware of the need to be prepared.
Other preparations should include putting up hurricane shutters, removing loose items from the yard and bringing them inside to prevent them from becoming projectiles, and gassing up any vehicles.
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