Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projected Thursday that the 2020 hurricane season will see 19 to 25 named storms, including up to six major hurricanes bringing winds of more than 110 mph.
(CN) — Nearly two years after Hurricane Michael devastated the Florida Panhandle with 160 mph winds, Lisa Jones still feels nervous during hurricane season.
“Some people are still in campers or homes that are barely hanging on,” the Panama City resident said. “Because of our lack of trees, the sounds of storms are amplified. It’s safe to say — most of our nerves have not recovered yet either.”
That anxiousness ratcheted up on Thursday when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration updated its 2020 hurricane forecast to signal an “extremely active” hurricane season with up to 25 named storms.
“We’ve never forecasted 25 named storms,” said Gerry Bell, the lead hurricane forecaster at NOAA, during a conference call with reporters. “This is the first time.”
The federal agency estimates 19 to 25 storms, of which seven to 11 could become hurricanes – six of those major hurricanes packing winds of more than 110 mph.
“As we sit here today, the 2020 hurricane season has already been a record breaker,” said Louis Uccellini, director of the National Weather Service. “This is shaping up to be one of the more active seasons on record.”
That sentiment is shared by researchers at Colorado State University, who released their own forecasts a day prior, predicting 24 named storms, of which half would become hurricanes.
A convergence of a wet rainy season in West Africa, where many tropical systems develop, combined with above-average warm waters and a Pacific Ocean weather pattern that stifles wind shear in the Atlantic Ocean, has led to favorable conditions for organized storms.
The forecast comes as the U.S. enters the busiest part of the hurricane season – 95% of tropical systems develop between August and October. The hurricane season ends Nov. 30.
“We may see activity into November,” Bell said.
NOAA does not make predictions on how many storms will make landfall, but experts say the trajectory of tropical systems in these types of atmospheric conditions is usually west – toward Caribbean nations and the United States.
“It doesn’t surprise me it’s going to be an active season,” said Jennifer Collins, a professor in the University of Florida’s School of Geosciences.
But adding to the typical disaster planning coastal residents trudge through each year is another calamity: Covid-19.
“This hurricane season is really like no other, because we’ve never had this confluence of hazards,” Collins said.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced county and state governments in hurricane-prone states to reevaluate how to shelter thousands of residents in a storm’s path.
In Florida, the Division of Emergency Management set up a network of hotels to house immune-compromised evacuees or those sick with the virus. Some county emergency managers indicated they may test arrivals before entry to smaller shelters with a limited capacity of 50 people.
Before Hurricane Isaias, which made landfall Monday night on North Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane, the agency sent thousands of face masks and hand sanitizer to counties under a hurricane watch.
But, in a state that sees a handful of hurricane scares every year, Collins worries that “disaster fatigue” could prevent people from evacuating.
“We’re extremely concerned that people will take the risk of being in a vulnerable area with storm surge rather than going to a shelter because of the Covid risk,” she said. “You almost have a better risk with Covid than staying in place in a storm surge, flooded area.”
Collins, who also researches how Florida residents respond to an impending storm, said those communities at risk of a hurricane need to plan now.
“Think outside the box and know during a disaster people are more generous and helpful than usual,” she said. “I encourage people to reach out to their weak ties.”
Weak ties, Collins explained, means people other than immediate family, such as co-workers or a friend of a friend.
“Even weak ties will help in times of disaster,” she said.
And write those numbers down, she added, in case power outages make your cellphone unusable.