Forecasters look ahead to busy hurricane season

Hurricane Dorian slows to a crawl over Grand Bahama Island just before Labor Day 2019. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s GOES East satellite captured this view of the Category 5 storm over Grand Bahama on Sept. 2, 2019. Dorian then made its way toward Florida and traveled along the east coast, prompting hurricane watches and evacuations.

Planning for hurricane season in the midst of a pandemic is likely not a priority for Pinellas County’s residents right now. Many are simply worried about surviving the novel coronavirus.

However, the Atlantic basin hurricane season will begin on June 1, and forecasters are predicting it will have above-normal activity.

Hurricane experts from Colorado State University released their forecast on April 2 and predict 16 named tropical storms will form, eight of which will become hurricanes with four major hurricanes, which are Category 3 or above on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

The long-term average season has 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes. Eighteen named storms formed in 2019 with six strengthening into hurricanes and three became major hurricanes.

Pinellas County is already working with its partners to evaluate its hurricane shelter sites and determine the best way to deal with sheltering while considering the effect of COVID-19, according to Ashley Johnson, senior communication specialist with Marketing and Communications.

She said staff is considering social distancing, personal protection and hygiene protocols, which is different from past years’ needs.

Shelter space has long been an issue. The county always advises people to take refuge with friends or family. Efforts have been made to create a network of host homes. Shelters are intended as a place of last resort.

And space is limited. Evacuees are advised that their space may be only 5 feet by 2 feet, which certainly isn’t enough to maintain social distancing recommendations of keeping people 6 feet apart.

But, Johnson says Emergency Management staff is working on a plan.

In addition, she said that staff is readying the 2020 hurricane guide, which includes information on what to do before, during and after a storm.

“As with any hurricane season, we urge residents to be prepared,” Johnson said. “Know your evacuation zone, have a plan and stay informed.”

Hurricane Preparedness Week

National Weather Service is urging residents to get ready for the upcoming season during the annual National Hurricane Week, May 3-9.

Monday, May 3, urges those in hurricane-prone areas to access their risks, including wind and water hazards.

Tuesday, May 4, is the time to develop an evacuation plan. Determine if you will need to evacuate and if so decide where you will go. Don’t forget to include your pets.

Wednesday, May 5, is set aside to start getting disaster supplies together. NWS recommends that everyone have enough non-perishable food, water and medicine to last for three days for each person in your home. In Pinellas, the recommendation is for a one-week supply. Also, you should have extra cash, battery-powered radio and flashlights.

Thursday, May 6, NWS advises residents to make sure their insurance is adequate, including home, vehicles and boats. Standard homeowner’s insurance and renter’s insurance does not cover flooding, so a separate policy may be needed. Flood insurance requires a 30-day waiting period.

Friday, May 7, is a day to turn attention toward strengthening your home. NWS says residents who plan to stay in their homes during a hurricane should make sure it is in good repair and has been built to hurricane building code specifications. A garage door is one of the most vulnerable parts of the home and needs to be able to withstand hurricane-force winds. Residents should make sure they have plywood, steel or aluminum panels to protect windows and doors.

Saturday, May 8, is when everyone should be thinking about their neighbors, NWS says. It is a time to get together and plan strategies to prepare and recover if a hurricane affects your neighborhood.

Sunday, May 9, is the time to complete a written hurricane plan before the season begins.

“If you wait until a hurricane is on your doorstep, the odds are that you will be under duress and will make the wrong decisions,” NWS says. “Take the time now to write down your hurricane plan. Know where you will ride out the storm and get your supplies now. You don’t want to be standing in long lines when a hurricane warning is issued.”

Sales tax holiday

The state is sponsoring a seven-day Disaster Preparedness Sales Tax holiday, May 29-June 4 to encourage people stock up on a variety of disaster-preparedness supplies.

Tax-free items during holiday include flashlights and lanterns selling for $20 or less; self-powered radios, two-way radios or weather-band radios selling for $50 or less; tarpaulins or other flexible waterproof sheeting selling for $50 or less; gas or diesel fuel tanks selling for $25 or less; AA, AAA, C, D, 6-volt and 9-volt batteries, excluding automobile and boat batteries, selling for $30 or less ; non-electric food storage coolers selling for $30 or less; reusable ice selling for $10 or less; ground anchor systems or tie-down kits selling for $50 or less; and portable generators costing $750 or less.

NWS says, “Being prepared, before a hurricane threatens, makes you resilient to the hurricane impacts of wind and water. It will mean the difference between your being a hurricane victim and a hurricane survivor.”

For more information and tips of hurricane preparedness in Pinellas, visit http://www.pinellascounty.org/resident/disasters.htm.

2020 hurricane names

This year’s hurricane names are Arthur, Bertha, Cristobal, Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gonzalo, Hanna, Isaias, Josephine, Kyle, Laura, Marco, Nana, Omar, Paulette, Rene, Sally, Teddy, Vicky and Wilfred.

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