June 1st marks the official start of hurricane season, the dreaded time of year when warmer months bring forth tropical storms and severe weather patterns that can wreak havoc across the country and the world. With several countries and communities still reeling from the damage and the trauma of the deadly 2017 hurricane season, the prospect of a dangerous 2020 storm season is exponentially more terrifying and threatening. And to add insult to injury, during these complex and scary pandemic times, the risks of an active hurricane season are even greater with more potential for significant damage.
And the latest season forecasts are all predicting just that: a very active hurricane season. Brace yourselves.
“NOAA’s analysis of current and seasonal atmospheric conditions reveals a recipe for an active Atlantic hurricane season this year,” said Neil Jacobs, Ph.D., acting NOAA administrator. According to forecasters with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service, we can expect the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1st to November 30th, to be above average in terms of named storms, with 13-19 named storms expected. Named storms are defined as having winds of 39 mph or higher. Beyond that, they’re predicting three to six of those storms would become major hurricanes with 111 mph winds or higher. [
In addition, a recent forecast from Pennsylvania State University is predicting 20 named storms (note: the average is 12) in the Atlantic. And it’s important to recognize that if that figure is reached — again, these are all predictions — it would make 2020 the second most active season on record in terms of the number of storms.
While this all sounds concerning simply from a disaster preparedness standpoint, it’s even scarier when you consider the state of the world and the fact that many cities and communities that will be most impacted by these storms are still on lockdown, still encouraging residents to stay “safer at home” and with healthcare systems still greatly preoccupied with COVID-19 disaster relief efforts. Experts worry about the capacity to properly protect and assist those in need in the event of a major hurricane.
“The ability to respond will be severely hindered,” said Jeff Schlegelmilch, deputy director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. Schlegelmilch reiterated that the country does not seem ready or equipped to handle multiple major disasters at this current time. And his concerns aren’t limited to how community responses to the storm would be hindered; he’s also worried that such a response would also amplify the pandemic at the same time. If a hurricane makes landfall it could increase the spread of the virus due to “increased transmission of COVID-19 in congregate settings such as shelters, with disrupted infrastructure, such as loss of power, and a myriad of other realities,” he explains.
In addition to the fear of how equipped emergency responders would be in the event of a damaging storm, there’s also the fear of how citizens will prepare, when they’re so consumed by efforts to stay safe and distanced during the coronavirus pandemic. “As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross in a recent press release.
During the process of preparing for social isolation at home as a result of COVID-19, many people have stocked their homes with everything they need to be comfortable and healthy during this safer at home period. But those precautions do not necessarily prepare your home and your loved ones for a hurricane. In fact, being stuck at home might actually make you more vulnerable in the event that a major storm should strike. Experts urge residents to be prepared on all fronts — yes, you should plan to stay at home and stay safe so you don’t risk infection of yourself or other members of your community. But you also need to be prepared to evacuate your home due to a dangerous storm.
As always, hope for the best but prepare for the worst. It’s always better to be overly prepared for what may come, especially if predictions are pointing to a dangerous storm season, and hope that those efforts are unnecessary. Prioritize your health and safety both with short-term and long-term planning, and use this trying time to think about what matters most and protect the people you love.