This is the time of year we now dread. Not Christmas. Not the end of school. Not even that bittersweet day when you realize you are another year older — again! I am talking the two words that put the fear of God in everyone who lives on the coast: hurricane season. Yes, very quietly, in the still of the night, about two weeks ago, the 2006 hurricane season began.
Right now, the forecasters are busy trying to figure out the answers. How many? How severe? Where? Currently, they are predicting a slightly less active season than 2005, and the best news is that the U.S. Gulf Coast may get a reprieve.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the 2005 hurricane season smashed all previous records. The year saw 28 named storms (the previous record was 21, in 1933), 15 hurricanes (previous record: 12, in 1969), four major hurricanes hitting the United States (previous record: three, in 2004) and four Category 5 hurricanes (previous record: two, in 1960 and 1961). The extraordinary activity of the season was attributed to warm waters in the Atlantic. This year the water temperature is expected to be cooler.
“The Atlantic is a little bit warm, but it’s nothing like last year, which was the worst hurricane season in history,” says David Adamec, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. “Last year the water was really warm. It was downright toasty.”
How much warmer the water will get this season depends a lot on how long a persistent subtropical high-pressure system remains parked over the Atlantic, Adamec says. The high pressure keeps the skies clear and lets the sun beat down and heat up the waters.
AccuWeather, a weather information service based in State College, Penn., is forecasting a more active season for the northeastern United States and the western Gulf of Mexico, predicting that one in six Americans who live in those regions will be affected by tropical winds and rain.
“The 2006 season will be a creeping threat,” says AccuWeather’s chief forecaster, Joe Bastardi. “Early in the season — June and July — the Texas Gulf Coast faces the highest likelihood of a hurricane strike, possibly putting Gulf energy production in the line of fire. As early as July, and through much of the rest of the season, the highest level of risk shifts to the Carolinas. From mid-August into early October, the window is open for hurricane strikes to spread northward to the more densely populated Northeast coast. At the very end of the season, southern Florida also faces significant hurricane risk.”
Well, there you have it from two authorities. Personally, I think hurricane prediction is an exercise in futility. You can never predict what a woman will do, and they don’t call her Mother Nature for nothing. Two things are for sure: There will be a number of storms, and there will be destruction. The important thing is to be prepared, and that’s not too difficult if you follow a few common-sense tips:
- Listen to the news. I have already told you we are in hurricane season; now you have to do some snooping on your own. Know when a storm is coming. After last year’s devastation, there will be no shortage of news coverage, I assure you.
- Stock up. Every household even remotely in the path of tropical weather should have the following on hand throughout the season: some dry food for people and pets, bottled water, a portable radio, flashlights and spare batteries, a first aid kit and a cell phone. And don’t wait until the storm is bearing down to head for Home Depot. Why not go out tomorrow and buy the plywood you may need to board up your windows?
- Heed the advice of the authorities. When they tell you to leave, leave! Pack your valuables and head out of town; your life is simply not worth the risk of staying home. If you are unable to evacuate yourself, call for help. You will be told when it is safe to return. Don’t try to go earlier. There are many unseen dangers after a storm has passed through, and public safety crews need to do their work without having to deal with early returnees. Again, heed the advice of authorities.
Are you planning a trip to hurricane territory? Always, always purchase supplemental travel insurance and check with the insurer about its hurricane coverage. Some resorts offer a “hurricane guarantee,” but these guarantees are usually limited, so read the fine print. Keep in mind that if storm clouds are gathering, it might just make sense from a safety point of view to abandon the trip.
Staying safe during hurricane season is not difficult if you follow some very simple tips. Unfortunately, common sense tends to go out the window in an emergency. But if you make your plans before a storm starts brewing, you will be in a better position to come out unscathed.
Oh, and one more tip: Although the waves will be big, and the surf will be up, leave that surfboard in the garage!