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Hurricane Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida about 1:30 p.m. Oct. 10, 2018 with wind speeds of 160 mph. Michael was a Category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Michael was the first hurricane to make landfall in the United States as a Category 5 storm since Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Experts with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center say a near-normal Atlantic hurricane season is most likely for 2019.

NOAA predicts a range of nine-15 named storms with winds of 39 mph or higher will form this year. Four-eight of those storms could become hurricanes with winds of 74 mph or higher, including two-four major hurricanes, Category 3, 4 or 5 with winds of 111 mph or higher.

“That’s a lot of activity, said Gerry Bell, Ph.D., NOAA’s lead seasonal hurricane forecaster. “Start getting prepared now.”

NOAA released its annual pre-season outlook May 23. Hurricane season begins June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.

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Andrea was the first named storm of the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season. It formed about 6:30 p.m. May 20 southwest of Bermuda.

The season has already had its first named storm, which formed before hurricane season officially began. Andrea formed about 6:30 p.m. May 20 southwest of Bermuda. Andrea didn’t last long. It was a tropical depression by 11 a.m. May 21 and gone by 5 p.m. that day.

Bell said having early activity wasn’t a signal of what to expect for the rest of the season. Typically storms that form early, along with those that from in June and July aren’t as strong as the ones that form during the peak of the season, August-October, he said.

Other hurricane experts are predicting a below-normal season. Still the number of storms is about the same. Meteorologists at Colorado State University predict that 13 named storms will form this season with five hurricanes and two major hurricanes.

Bell said some uncertainty exists in the forecast due to competing climate factors. The ongoing El Nino is expected to persist and suppress the intensity of the season. However, warmer-than-average sea-surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea along with an enhanced African monsoon favor increased hurricane activity.

NOAA will update its outlook in August prior to the peak of the season.

One of the reason’s NOAA issues its outlook is to bring awareness to the need to prepare. Daniel Kaniewksi, FEMA deputy administrator of resilience, reminded the public, “It only takes one land falling hurricane to cause destruction to a community.”

“Preparing ahead of a disaster is the responsibility of all levels of government, the private sector and the public,” he said.

He gave a list of steps people need to take to be ready, including having a disaster kit with enough food, water and medications to last at least 72 hours. People also need a plan on how they would communicate with family and friends.

He said people should know their evacuation route and practice evacuating ahead of time. The public should follow the advice of local officials and have a battery-powered radio so they can hear emergency instructions. He recommended downloading the FEMA app. Visit https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app.

Kaniewksi said people should be financially prepared and have cash on hand. ATM’s and credit card swipe machines run on electricity, and may not be working after a storm.

Homeowners insurance is a must-have as is flood insurance, he said. Flood insurance is not included in homeowner’s insurance. Visit Ready.gov for more information.

People who live on the coast aren’t the only ones that need to prepare, Bell said. He pointed to the differences in two hurricanes that affected the United States last year. Hurricane Florence stalled out over the Carolinas and brought record rainfall to inland locations.

Hurricane Michael was a strong Category 5 hurricane that “decimated everything in its path,” he said.

The World Meteorological Organization retired the names of Florence and Michael. Storm names are retired when they are so deadly or destructive that the future use of the name would be insensitive - otherwise, names are reused on a six-year cycle.

This year’s hurricane names include Andrea, Barry, Chantal, Dorian, Erin, Fernand, Gabrielle, Humberto, Imelda, Jerry, Karen, Lorenzo, Melissa, Nestor, Olga, Pablo, Rebekah, Sebastien, Tanya, Van and Wendy.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross praised the work of NOAA and its “dedicated experts,” including the hurricane hunter pilots. He talked about what goes on during the off-season toward making predictions more accurate pre-season and when storms form. He said accuracy of storm forecast tracks had improved 30 percent.

“This advance warning saves lives and gives people a chance to protect property,” he said.

The 2018 season was a busy one, Ross said, with more than $50 billion in damages.

It’s about being prepared, not the number of storms, he said.

“Storm tropical storms that persist and stall have great impact beyond the coast,” he said. “Anyone who can be impacted should stay informed and be ready to heed warnings. Take steps ahead of the season and gather supplies now.”

For more information about hurricane preparation in Pinellas, visit www.pinellascounty.org/resident/disasters.htm.

Sales tax holiday approved

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 7123 May 15, approving the Disaster Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday scheduled from May 31-June 6.

The holiday begins at 12:01 a.m. Friday, May 31, and ends at 11:59 p.m. Thursday, June 6.

Exemption on sales taxes on hurricane supplies includes:

• Portable self-powered light sources, like flashlights, selling for $20 or less

• Portable self-powered radios, including two-way radios or weather-band radios, selling for $50 or less

• Tarps, other waterproof sheets, ground anchors or ties, also for $50 or less

• Gas or diesel fuel tanks that are sold for $25 or less

• AA, AAA, C, D, 6-volt or 9-volt batteries sold for $30 or less (car and boat batteries are excluded)

• Non-electric coolers up to $30

• Portable generators sold for $750 or less

• Reusable ice sold for $10 or less

The exemption does not apply to items sold at a theme park, entertainment complex, public lodging establishment or airport.

For more information, visit www.floridarevenue.com/disasterprep.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.