NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center released its 2020 Atlantic hurricane season outlook May 21. Forecasters say it is most likely that the season will be above average and could possibly be very active.
Odds are 60% that the season will be above normal, 30% it will be near normal and 10% it will be below normal.
Forecasters gave a 70% chance that 13-19 named storms would form with winds of 39 mph or higher, six-10 hurricanes with winds of 74 mph or higher and three-six major hurricanes, which are Category 3 or above with winds of 111 mph or higher.
An average season includes 12 named storms with six strengthening into a hurricane and three becoming a major hurricane.
Gerry Bell, Ph.D., National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s lead hurricane season forecaster, explained that the above normal forecast was warranted due to several climate factors, including conditions that have been in place since 1995 that have resulted in increased tropical activity.
Conditions include warmer than average sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean Sea, reduced vertical wind shear, weaker tropical Atlantic trade winds and an enhanced west African monsoon.
The biggest uncertainty in the forecast is the possibility of La Nina forming later in the season. Currently, conditions are neutral with El Nino in place, Bell said; however, signs are evident that La Nina could form, which would increase the possibility of hurricanes forming.
Bell said if 2020 turns out to an above-average season it would be the sixth consecutive year of increased activity and set a new record. The previous record was set in 1998-2001.
Hurricane season begins June 1 and continues through Nov. 30. The peak of the season when most activity occurs is August-October; however, it is not unusual for tropical storms or a hurricane to form in June or July or even earlier.
Early start to 2020 season
The first tropical storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season started as a depression that formed May 16 off the east-central coast of Florida. Tropical Storm Arthur remained offshore the east coast of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
This is the sixth consecutive year that an early named storm has formed.
Andrea kicked off the season on May 21, 2019, near Bermuda. Tropical Storm Alberto formed May 25, 2018, and came ashore along the Florida Panhandle on Memorial Day. Arlene got its name on April 19, 2017.
Alex formed on Jan. 12, 2016 and strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane. Bonnie was 2016’s second early storm forming on May 27. Ana launched the 2015 season on May 8.
Tropical Storm Arthur was included in the prediction for 13-19 names storms this season.
Time to prepare is now
Regardless of the activity, the time to prepare is now was the main message communicated during the outlook.
Carlos Castillo, Federal Emergency Management Agency's acting deputy administrator for resilience, talked about preparing during COVID-19, adding that it would not be the first time that FEMA has responded to multiple disasters simultaneously.
He said FEMA was working with all its partners on preparedness and response activities.
He advised everyone to prepare not just residents of coastal areas, pointing out that high winds and flooding also occurs in inland areas.
He talked about the problem of having enough shelter space for evacuees to provide for social distancing requirements. He says people should plan to evacuate to friends or family, or if necessary stay at a hotel outside the evacuation zone. He reminded the public to make evacuation plans that includes their pets.
Information about planning for a hurricane during COVID-19 is posted at ready.gov/plan.
He said people who have to go to a shelter should plan to take sanitation supplies, stay 6 feet away from others and avoid groups. Anyone over the age of 2 should wear cloth face masks, he said.
Shelters are meant to keep people safe, but not necessarily comfortable, he said. Planning should begin now to have the most options, as it is likely that fewer shelter spaces will be available this year.
He said even without a pandemic, shelter capacity is not adequate to handle a large evacuation that might be necessary for a major hurricane.
He said people should listen to local officials and immediately heed evacuation orders. He said people often wait too late to begin to leave.
Pinellas County has not yet released information on local plans for providing shelters if a hurricane threatens this year. Residents are urged to prepare ahead. For more information and tips of hurricane preparedness in Pinellas, visit http://www.pinellascounty.org/resident/disasters.htm.
The public is advised to check https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/ frequently to stay information about any watches or warnings.
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.
Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at email@example.com.