Hurricane season may be ‘extreme’

Coastal response organizations say they are as ready as they can be in face of predictions.

BY SANDIE GARCIA | BALTIMORE | March 16, 2010



"Regardless of what the forecasts are, we have to prepare as though there is going to be a major disaster"

—Mike Manning


Disaster response organizations along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts say they are as ready as they can be even if predictions of an “extreme” hurricane season this year are correct.

AccuWeather.com is predicting that the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season will be much more active than last year's, and poses an “above-normal” threat to the U.S. coastline.

“This year has the chance to be an extreme season,” said Joe Bastardi, the center’s Chief Long-Range Meteorologist. "It is certainly much more like 2008 than 2009 as far as the overall threat to the United States' East and Gulf coasts."

Jody Hill, Executive Director of Florida Interfaith Networking in Disaster (FIND) says that Florida is as ready as it can be for the upcoming season, however; since it hasn’t been hit recently by major storms, many of their recovery organizations are not currently active.

“The majority of the people who were involved in the 2004, 2005 storms, are still involved, so we have very well educated, very capable team, to go back into action,” said Hill.

Mike Manning, immediate past president of VOAD, Louisiana chapter mirrors Hill’s sentiments: “I don’t know that you’re ever ready, you try and stay as prepared as possible, but to say that we’re totally ready is not something that I think is fair. You don’t ever know what you’re going to face.”

A typical hurricane season has about 11 storms, two or three of which impact the US coast. Bastardi has predicted 16 to18 tropical storms during the coming hurricane season. Of those, five will be major hurricanes (Category 3 or stronger) and two or three are expected to be major landfalls for the U.S. coast.

Bastardi’s reasoning behind his prediction for a more active hurricane season includes the rapidly weakening El Nino in the tropical Pacific, which results in a less active Atlantic hurricane season.

Warmer ocean temperatures in the tropical Atlantic this year are another factor in the projected storm activity, since tropical storms draw energy from warm water of at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

AccuWeather.com also emphasized the weakening of Atlantic trade winds as another factor contributing to the more active 2010 hurricane season. These easterly winds tend to pull dry air and dust from Africa into the tropical Atlantic, both of which result in higher air humidity levels and fuel tropical storm development.

Manning says that with any hurricane forecast, public awareness and communication is essential: “Realistically, the government is not going to be able to take care of you in the first hours after a storm. They’re going to be concerned with emergency response and rescue and not about food or anything along those lines. It’s really just getting the word out and reminding people that they need to do some preparedness for themselves, but also the efforts of the state to work with us, from a non profit perspective to make sure that we can try to address as many issues as we can so that we don’t face problems in response.”

The AccuWeather.com forecast did not pinpoint exactly where the expected hurricanes would make landfall, but it does say that all coastal areas have an above-normal threat this season. Seasons that Bastardi believes are comparable to the upcoming one include 1964 with Cleo, 1995 with Opal and 1998 with Bonnie, all which resulted in devastating land-falling storms, numerous deaths, and millions of dollars in damages.

Last year, Bastardi accurately predicted that the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season would be a year far below the average, with 11 tropical depressions forming and only nine of those becoming tropical storms. It was the lowest number of named tropical storms or hurricanes since the 1997 season.

Although 2009 may have been a calmer hurricane season, states on the Atlantic coast are still picking up the pieces from prior storms.

Hill says that Florida is still recovering from Tropical Storm Fay, which hit Florida a record four times and flooded much of the state in 2008.

“It may not have been a Charlie, Jeanne, Francis and Ivan, but to the community who got hit, it’s very much a reality. There are still volunteers coming into Florida (from Fay), many counties are in the process of actively helping people rebuild their homes… so we’re not done. We’re still finding bits and pieces from 2004,” said Hill.

Manning said Louisiana is also still in a convalescing after past storms: “The Baton Rouge area is also still rebuilding from Gustav…. There are still problems recovering from Katrina, there are still major issues that New Orleans faces because of that.”

While Accuweather.com’s predictions may be helpful, the way various non-profit organizations prepare for the 2010 hurricane season, is not going to change.

“If you’ve been doing this for a while, it’s not that you don’t pay attention to (the projected forecasts), but in Florida, it’s not ‘oh gosh we’re going to have a busy season, so lets get ready for it’. We always expect a busy season, and if we don’t get one, we’re happy,” Hill said.

Manning agrees: “Regardless of what the forecasts are, we have to prepare as though there is going to be a major disaster, because if we don’t, we’re not prepared when it does happen. It could be advantageous for us to have forecasts of significantly more active storms because it gets people thinking about being prepared, who may otherwise wait until the last minute.”

The Atlantic hurricane season starts on June 1 and ends on November 30, with peak activity occurring in late August and early September.


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Related Links:

Accuweather.com- 2010 Hurricane Season Predictions

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