We plan for the worst, we hope for the best and then we deal with what mother nature sends to us.
WASHINGTON – The 2007 Atlantic hurricane season will be above normal with three to five storms becoming major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted Tuesday.
The agency predicted 13 to 17 named tropical storms, with seven to 10 becoming hurricanes. Of those, three to five could become Category 3 or greater with winds of more than 111 miles per hour.
It put the chances of a more active hurricane season at 75 percent.
State and federal officials said they were prepared for hurricane season, which starts June 1 and ends Nov. 30. National Hurricane Preparedness Week began Sunday.
The NOAA forecast was similar to those issued earlier this month by both Joe Bastardi, chief hurricane forecaster with AccuWeather, and Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University.
Bastardi predicted a total of 13 to 14 storms in the Atlantic basin with three or more likely to be Category 3 or higher. He said six or seven of the storms would strike the U.S. coast. CSU researchers predicted 17 named storms, nine of which would become hurricanes. Five of the nine would be Category 3 or higher, CSU said.
The next CSU forecast is due out May 31.
NOAA forecasters said storm activity could be even higher if La Nina conditions – a cooling of the central and eastern tropical Pacific - develop. Those conditions could occur within the next three months, NOAA said.
"There is some uncertainty this year as to whether or not La Nina will form, and if it does how strong it will be," said Gerry Bell, a hurricane forecaster at the NOAA Climate Prediction Center. "If La Nina develops, storm activity will likely be in the upper end of the predicted range, or perhaps even higher depending on how strong La Nina becomes.
"Even if La Nina does not develop, the conditions associated with the ongoing active hurricane era still favor an above-normal season," Bell said.
Most hurricane predictions for the 2006 Atlantic season incorrectly predicted an active season.
"A prediction is simply that, a prediction," said Mark Smith, spokesman for the Louisiana governor's office of homeland security and emergency preparedness.
"The predictions really don't play any type of role in how we prepare for a hurricane season," he said. "We plan for the worst, we hope for the best and then we deal with what mother nature sends to us."
Smith said Louisiana, still recovering from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, was "more prepared today" to deal with another storm.
"We're in a much better position," he said. "Our plans have been significantly upgraded all the way across the board. We're in a much better position now than we've ever been."
Even so, he said areas trying to recover from Katrina still had years of work ahead.
"We're gong to have areas still trying to recover five years from now, seven years from now, 10 years from now," Smith said "The level of devastation left by Katrina is going to be a long-lasting issue in the state of Louisiana for at least a decade. So for those who believe this is a short-term problem, they’re sadly mistaken."
Smith said the state was continuing to stress the need for individuals - including residents, volunteers and contractors working in the region - to take a "heightened view of personal responsibility."
Officials in other states also said they were prepared to deal with storms this season. They echoed Smith's statement about the need for people to take responsibility.
"Subtropical storm Andrea was a wake-up call for our state and a reminder to all North Carolinians to get ready for what could be a busy hurricane season," said Gov. Mike Easley. "Our state's vulnerability to hurricanes ranks second only to Florida, so every citizen must be prepared."
He cited a poll earlier this month showing that more than half of North Carolinians interviewed were not concerned about or prepared for a major storm during the upcoming hurricane season. Sixty-eight percent said they did not have an emergency supply kit.
"Citizens across our state must take personal responsibility to prepare themselves and their families for emergencies so they can be safe on their own for the first few days after a storm," Easley said. "If those who are able to prepare will do so, then police officers, firefighters and EMS crews will be able to help those in life-threatening situations first."
Mike Stone, spokesman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management, agreed that individual preparedness would allow responders to aid those people or areas most in need.
"For every Floridian that does their part, prepares to the best of their ability . . . it allows us to focus our resources to where they are truly needed," he said. "Now is the time for them to get a plan and get ready for the season."
In addition to gearing up for hurricane season, emergency management officials in Florida have been dealing with a massive wildfire on the border with Georgia, as well as with hundreds of other wildfires across the state. An annual statewide hurricane drill that was started about two weeks ago had to be postponed about halfway through the exercise due to the fires.
Stone stressed that residents needed to look ahead to the current storm reason rather than looking back at past storms which might not have been as bad as initially feared.
"We want residents not to fall into the trap of, 'It wasn't so bad last time,'" he said. "It's the next event, because no two of these storms are actually the same.
"Hurricanes have been with us all of our lives here as Floridians, so there really is no excuse not to be prepared," Stone said. "What we are really pushing our residents to understand is, we want them to look forward and being in the posture where they're preparing for the next storm.
"We want people to understand that these plans and procedures can benefit you 365 days a year," he added.
To encourage people to prepare, the state will waive sales tax on disaster preparedness items – everything from batteries and generators to tarps and flashlights – for the first 12 days in June. Those items can not only be used during a hurricane but other disasters, such as wildfires, as well, Stone said.
R. David Paulison, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has said the federal government also was more prepared to respond to a hurricane than it was after Katrina. He told Congress earlier this month that an updated federal disaster plan, which was to be finished by the start of hurricane season June 1, would not be completed by that deadline
NOAA also predicted hurricane season would be slightly below average for Hawaii and the central Pacific. It predicted two or three tropical cyclones this season. A typical year sees an average of 4.5 tropical cyclones.
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