Florida Prepares for Hurricane Season amid Pandemic

The NOAA said it expects to see 13 to 19 named storms in 2020, including six to 10 that could become hurricanes and three to six that could develop into a major hurricane, meaning Category 3 strength or higher.

by Julius Whigham II, The Palm Beach Post, Fla. / May 29, 2020
Sitting in front of her condo in Mexico Beach Tuesday, October 16, 2018, Susan Seagraves talks about her plans for the future after after Hurricane Michael hit north Florida. The storm surge was four feet inside her home, which is about 5 feet above the ground. TNS/LANNIS WATERS/palmbeachpost.com

(TNS) — With Floridians already facing daily challenges because of the coronavirus pandemic, the first day of June marks the beginning of another concern — the official start of hurricane season.

And by all indications, this season will be another busy one.

The six-month Atlantic hurricane season begins Monday, with multiple major forecasters predicting above-normal activity.

NOAA's Climate Prediction Center said it expects to see 13 to 19 named storms in 2020, including six to 10 that could become hurricanes and three to six that could develop into a major hurricane, meaning Category 3 strength or higher. An average storm season has 12 named storms, including six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

Another signal it could be a busier-than normal hurricane season is the lack of an El Niño and higher expectations that a La Niña could develop during the peak of hurricane season — August through October. While an El Niño tends to reduce tropical systems with higher wind shear, a La Niña is more conducive to burgeoning systems.

With the pandemic, we're preparing for multiple scenarios

Amid the backdrop of a pandemic that has claimed more than 2,000 lives in Florida and more than 100,000 nationwide, state and local emergency management officials are preparing for the possibility of facing synchronized disasters.

During a Florida Cabinet teleconference Thursday, Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz discussed the state's recommendations to counties. 

If a hurricane threatens, some evacuation requests may be replaced by stay-at-home orders as officials try to minimize the spread of coronavirus.

"We only want people to evacuate if they have to evacuate," Moskowitz said. "If you live in a newer structure, newer home and newer building code and the storm is of a lower category ... sheltering in place may be the safest thing for you and your family."

The state also is recommending that counties follow CDC recommendations and offer non-congregate shelters, such as hotels, as an alternative to traditional shelters. 

The state so far has signed up 200 hotels, with county emergency management officials having the ability to pre-register evacuees. If possible, shelters should limit capacity to 50 people, Moskowitz said. The state also recommends every one entering a shelter be screened, and that separate spaces be provided for those who fall ill.

The CDC recommends that those evacuating to shelters include items such as hand sanitzer, liquid or bar soap, and cloth masks in their hurricane preparation kits.

Is it possible we'll be threatened by another major hurricane?

If the predictions hold true — calling for an above-normal hurricane season with as many as four major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher — it will be the fifth consecutive year for unusually-high activity. It also would follow some of the most devastating hurricanes in history.

Since 2016, six Category 5 hurricanes have formed, beginning with Matthew in 2016, followed by 2017's Irma and Maria, 2018's Michael and 2019's Dorian and Lorenzo.

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©2020 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.)

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