Sixteen named storms predicted for Atlantic hurricane season which starts June 1
By CJ HADDAD
While Floridians continue to battle the affects of an ongoing global pandemic, the calendar turns to June Monday, bringing with it the official start of Hurricane Season.
The country’s top hurricane predictors at Colorado State University are forecasting 16 named storms for the forthcoming Atlantic hurricane season — which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 — an above-average season in their estimates.
Storms are named with sustained winds of 39 mph or higher. Storms become hurricanes when winds surpass 74 mph or higher and major hurricanes — category 3,4 or 5 — see winds of 111 mph-plus.
The CSU Tropical Meteorology Project team said their primary indication of an above-average season is due the “likely absence” of El Nino.
Although forecasters have indicated an active season, Southwest Florida residents know all too well that no matter the predictions, just a single extreme weather event can change everything.
“It takes only one storm near you to make this an active season,” said Michael Bell, associate professor in the CSU Department of Atmospheric Science, in a release.
Lee County’s Director of Public Safety and Emergency Management Lee Mayfield said while predictions to not to uncombed by local officials, they prepare every year for the arrival of a major storm.
“We’re in full hurricane prep mode,” Mayfield said. “When those predictions come out, we take a look at them, but at the end of the day, they don’t tell us what’s going to happen in Lee County. We plan as if we are going to have a storm every year and that’s what we really want from the public – is to not kind of guess on what’s going to happen. We want to make sure that just like us in Lee County, members of the public are preparing like we would have a storm this year. It just takes one to ruin our year, just like we saw during Irma. We want to make sure people are ready, whatever the forecasts say.”
According to CSU hurricane researchers, tropical and subtropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures that are currently warmer than usual play a role in their active season prediction.
Of the 16 named storms predicted for this season, CSU researchers expect eight to become hurricanes, with four to reach major hurricane strength (Category 3,4,5).
So, how does the outlook compare to prior years?
“So far, the 2020 hurricane season is exhibiting characteristics similar to 1960, 1966, 1980, 1996, and 2008. 1966, 1980, 1996 and 2008 had above-average Atlantic hurricane activity, while 1960 was a near-average hurricane season,” said Phil Klotzbach, research scientist in the Department of Atmospheric Science and lead author of the report, in a release.
The team at CSU is predicting the 2020 Atlantic season will be about 140 percent of the average season. 2019’s hurricane activity was around 120 percent and was most remembered for Hurricane Dorian.
Their landfall probability, which is subject only to “major hurricanes,” shows a 69 percent chance for the entire U.S. Coastline, a 45 percent chance for the U.S. East Coast (including the Florida peninsula) and a 44 percent chance for the Gulf Coast from the Florida panhandle westward to Brownsville, a Texas coastal city near the border of Mexico.
This is the 37th year that the CSU hurricane research team has issued an Atlantic basin seasonal hurricane forecast.
According to the release, “The CSU forecast is intended to provide a best estimate of activity in the Atlantic during the upcoming season – not an exact measure.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also is predicting an above- normal 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.
Like CSU, NOAA officials expect El Nino conditions to either remain neutral or trend towards La Nina, meaning no El Nino present to disrupt hurricane activity.
“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, in a release. “Our skilled forecasters, coupled with upgrades to our computer models and observing technologies, will provide accurate and timely forecasts to protect life and property.”
NOAA predicts a 60 percent chance of an above-normal season, a 30 percent chance for a near-normal season and 10 percent of a below-normal season.
They forecast a “like range” of 13 to 19 named storms, of which six to 10 become hurricanes, including three to six major hurricanes.
“NOAA provides these ranges with a 70% confidence,” NOAA’s release states.
An average season produces 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.
“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 release. “Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe.”
The first named storm of the season, Arthur, formed on May 17 and has already come and gone, flirting with the North Carolina Coast. The short-lived storm plateaued with wind gusts just over 40 mph.
This was the sixth straight year a named storm has formed before the official June 1 start to Hurricane Season.
Lee County Emergency Management officials urge the public to stay vigilant in their preparation for the upcoming season despite the coronavirus.
Mayfield encouraged residents to start picking up items to store for the hurricane season as they are out shopping.
Items such as non-perishable foods, water, batteries, medications and paperwork are all essential to a hurricane preparedness kit.
“We really want to encourage the public to have those family hurricane plans, have your hurricane supply kit,” Mayfield said. “We want to make sure people take the time now, before we get into the peak of hurricane season, to prepare themselves, their families, their businesses, for what we might see this hurricane season.”
Evacuation protocols with COVID-19 potentially still prevalent in coming months, has primarily stayed the same, Mayfield said.
One change officials may recommend is for those who live in a well-built home that is located inland and away from any flood zones, to shelter in place depending on the severity of the storm.
“We really want to double-down on the message this year that if you’re father inland, and if you’re not in an evacuation zone and you live in a newer, well-built home, then we’d like you to consider staying at home and sheltering in your home. That’s really always been our message — we don’t want people to evacuate unnecessarily, but with the COVID-19 virus issue, that really allows us to double-down on that message. We really want to cut down on those unnecessary evacuations, especially this year.”
Mayfield also said shelters should not be a resident’s first choice, if possible.
“Our hurricane shelters should be that option of last resort,” he said. “If you do have to evacuate, we ask that you go to a family or friends house outside of that evacuation zone. We ask you to go to a hotel or motel. Really use that hurricane evacuation shelter as an option of last resort, not your first option.”
Mayfield said the county is looking into acquiring additional buildings in the county to be used as shelters to help with social distancing should coronavirus still be present during a major hurricane.
The county is looking into best practices for shelters in the event they need to be used in the midst of a pandemic.
Mayfield said masks and health screenings would most likely be a mandatory part of a shelter, should COVID-19 persist.
“Having the ability to social distance in a shelter will be important this year,” he said. “We’re looking at what would be most effective and most efficient in a hurricane shelter environment.”
Residents can also stay connected virtually by using the free mobile app, “LeePrepares,” where residents can get information on their evacuation zone, preparedness tips and more.
You can also stay up to date with county emergency notifications by visiting www.AlertLee.com.
n Cape Coral Fertilizer Restrictions begin June 1
With the start of hurricane season comes the beginning of fertilizer bans across Southwest Florida.
Cape Coral’s fertilizer ban starts June 1 and runs through Sept. 30.
“This regulation was enacted to keep harmful nutrients found in fertilizer from washing off from lawns into storm drains during the rainy months,” reads a release from the city. “These nutrients impact the city’s canals and surrounding waters, leading to poor water quality and algal blooms. The fertilizer restrictions apply to citizens and commercial lawn services.”
Here are the key points of the fertilizer ordinance:
* Fertilizers containing nitrogen or phosphors are not permitted between June 1 and Sept. 30.
* No fertilizer use is allowed of any kind if a storm watch or warning is in effect.
* No fertilizers can be used within 10 feet of any body of water – measured from the top of a seawall.
* The percentage of slow-release nitrogen content in any fertilizer used during the remainder of the year (January-May and October-December) must be at least 50 percent.
* No grass clippings or vegetative debris may be swept or blown into stormwater drains, conveyances, bodies of waters, sidewalks or roadways.
Cape Coral adopted the fertilizer ordinance in 2010.
n Disaster Preparedness Tax Holiday
The statewide “Disaster Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday” begins today, May 29 and ends Thursday, June 4.
According to the Florida Department of Revenue, during this sales tax holiday period, qualifying items related to disaster preparedness are exempt from sales tax. However, the sales tax holiday does not apply to the rental or repair of any of the qualifying items. Additionally, the sales tax holiday does not apply to sales in a theme park, entertainment complex, public lodging establishment or airport.
Tax exempt items include: reusable ice packs ($10 or less); any portable, self-powered light source ($20 or less); any gas or diesel fuel container ($25 or less); batteries, rechargeable batteries, coolers and ice chests ($30 or less); tarps, waterproof sheeting, ground anchor systems, bungee cords, radios ($50 or less); portable generators ($750 or less); and always exempt are bottled water, canned food, first aid kits, prescription medications, baby food and feminine hygiene products.
For a full list of exempt items, visit www.floridarevenue.com/disasterprep.
-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj