(PALM BEACH, FL, DISTRICT 21) Many veteran Floridians have not been shocked by the panic buying, state of emergency, and business disruption the coronavirus pandemic has brought because we deal with it every year during hurricane season.
But this year experts say the sunshine state, along with much of the gulf and Eastern coastal states of America, will have an “above-normal season” with possibly two to four Katrinas, Ritas, and Dorians to reckon with. AccuWeather, a time-tested weather adviser, has released their 2020 Atlantic hurricane forecast, and they are predicting 14-18 tropical storms between June 1 through Nov. 30.
According to Dan Kottlowksi, AccuWeather’s top hurricane expert armed with 43 years of experience, seven to nine of those storms are forecast to become hurricanes, and two to four are predicted to strengthen into major hurricanes, like those seen in 1980 and 2005. “It’s going to be an above-normal season,” Kottlowski said. “On a normal year, we have around 12 storms, six hurricanes and roughly three major hurricanes.”
Accuweather, and their team of long range meteorologists led by Kottlowski, accurately predicted the six hurricanes in 2019, based on data available in April of last year, including the prediction that four would make landfall and that three of them, Dorian, Humberto, and Lorenzo, would become major hurricanes.
In formulating this year’s prediction, Kottlowski’s team looked to 1980 and 2005, which had comparable weather conditions to the patterns brewing right now off America’s eastern seaboard. This is troubling because both those years saw devastating Category 5 storms wreak havoc in our hemisphere, such as Hurricane Allen in 1980, which killed 200 people in Haiti and lower Texas.
U.S. Hurricane Cycles
As for 2005, Kottlowski notes it was a particularly “hyperactive year,” which saw a whopping 28 storms, so many that it exhausted the predetermined list of names for the season, set by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), forcing leaders to call the last few storms by a Greek letter.
Ironically, the WMO was scheduled to address bringing names out of retirement to avoid this problem from occurring again, at the 42nd Session of their annual Hurricane Committee, scheduled to be held March 30–April 3 in Panama, but the event was disrupted and moved to video conference due to the coronavirus pandemic. 2005 also gave birth to the notorious Category 5 monster hurricane Katrina, which decimated swathes of the Gulf Coast, killing 1,800 people, and transforming the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans into an eternal ghost town, crippled and deserted even to this day.
Other history making storms struck that year, including Hurricanes Wilma and Rita, the latter slamming the American mainland from the Florida Keys to southeastern Texas, only weeks after Katrina‘s rampage. Wilma came just in time for the clean up and to set a world record for strength, intensifying to a Category 5 with 185-mph winds and central pressure of 26.05 inches of mercury (882 mb).
“There are a number of analog years we looked at that certainly show high-impact storms affecting the United States,” AccuWeather’s Kottlowski explained. “These could be direct hits or a storm scraping the coast but still causing impacts.”
“Warm water is actually what drives a lot of seasons,” Kottlowski noted, as NOAA has already reported water temperatures in the Caribbean hitting 80 degrees Fahrenheit this month.
“All it takes is one storm to make landfall in your area to cause serious and life-threatening problems,” Kottlowski said. “This year, more than likely, we’ll get hit with one or two big storms and we don’t know specifically where that is, so if you live near a coast or on an island, have a hurricane plan in place.”
Economics of Hurricane Damage
Aside from the cost of damage, which reached $1.57 billion for Hurricane Allen (1980), and a whopping $125 billion for Hurricane Katrina (2005), approximately forty percent of American jobs are created by coastal shoreline counties and those communities are responsible for 46% of the national GDP, only further compounding the trillion dollar impact of coronavirus to the world economy.
Shockingly, at least 38 million Americans live in coastal areas at risk from hurricanes, that are already currently facing quarantine orders to contain the spread of coronavirus, such as the States of New York, New Jersey, and Florida.
In about two months, residents of those states could face the nightmarish scenario of having to choose between adherence to a “shelter-in-place” order to avoid contracting a deadly disease, and fleeing their home to survive the shock and awe of a monster hurricane.
Additionally, what will the aftermath, and most importantly, the recovery look like if states and federal agencies cannot easily respond, both due to a national lockdown and a limit of physical resources and personnel which are already committed to the war on coronavirus.
That isn’t even taking into account the reluctance at the local, state, and federal level to loan and expose key personnel responsible for maintaining internet, power, and law and order in their own regions. Even preparing for Hurricane season is heavily hindered, with key industrial facilities being transmogrified to fully and solely support the production of masks and ventilators, not storm shutters, wing-nuts, and generators.
With the OPEC oil war aside [read more on the oil war here], the disruption in the global supply chain will undoubtedly worsen the dispersion of fuel.
How long will gas stations allow bulk purchases and refills as military units and National Guard soldiers prepare to deploy to cities like Miami to assist in enforcing quarantine, curfew, and social distancing?
Confronted with the topic at a Pentagon press briefing on the coronavirus response, U.S. National Guard Bureau Chief, General Joseph L. Lengyel, in-charge and responsible to ensure the 453,000 Army and Air National Guard Soldiers and Airman are accessible, capable and ready to protect the homeland, demurred and said:
“Ya, well, I think that’s er, I think that’s, that’s a good question, I think right now we’re in the midst of dealing with this pandemic and the flu, and, er, every state, every year, plans to deal with evacuation procedures and policies and how we’re going to get our people away from the coasts, so I think that, a, those plans are sitting there on the shelf, we may have to adapt how prep.. how we do it if people are, um, if there are quarantine things out there, but, ya know, hopefully by July, August time frame, when the, when the um, er, when the Hurricanes hit, traditional size, it can perhaps be mitigated by then. We’ll have to deal that when it comes to it.”
Great questions require timely answers and necessitate action, and leaders in Florida, New York, and Texas, among other states directly impacted by both coronavirus and hurricanes, better start preparing now before they are paralyzed by an Act of God.
Are Shelters Potential Incubators for the Coronavirus?
In Alabama, a state directly impacted annually by hurricanes and storm refugees, the National Weather Service recently teamed up with the Alabama Department of Public Health to issue a joint statement guiding residents to not flee, and focus instead on the storm rather than the virus.
“The decision to seek shelter in a community storm shelter is certainly made more difficult by the consideration for COVID-19,” the joint statement read, according to the Cullman Tribune. “At this time, the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) is recommending that your first priority should be to protect yourself from a potential tornado.”
“Certainly, wherever you choose to shelter from a tornado, you should use as many precautions as possible to inhibit the spread of COVID-19 as best as you can,” the statement continues. “If you rely on public community shelters, now may be the time to explore other options that might keep you safer from severe weather and possibly limit your exposure to COVID-19.”
Cullman County Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) Director Phyllis Little echoed that strategy to the local paper, noting that in the event of life threatening weather, citizens “need to take shelter and take as many precautions you can to social distance.”
“Life safety is the priority, and if you’re not in a structure that can withstand a severe storm, then you’re at less risk for Coronavirus by going to a shelter than you are from injury by staying in an unsafe structure,” she added, citing elected officials in her region: “I’ve contacted the mayors and the (County) Commission over the weekend, asking them to give me some input on that, and the ones I’ve heard from so far have said, ‘Our facilities are going to be open.’ People will make their own decision as to whether they come or not. And some of them are going to try and provide some hand sanitizer at the place. They’ve done cleaning to try and get them ready, as a rule, anyway. Otherwise, recommend that people bring their own hand sanitizer and take their precautions as they need to.”
Forbes senior contributor Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd, a leading international expert in weather and climate and the Director of the University of Georgia’s (UGA) Atmospheric Sciences Program, echoed this conclusion, citing the report and parallel data gathered by the Washington Post’s “Capital Weather Gang,” as proof that “the consensus of officials was that, if needed, citizens should go to tornado shelters even in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.”
“the consensus of officials was that, if needed, citizens should go to tornado shelters even in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.”
Regardless of race, religion or political party, Christians, Jews, and atheists alike will be praying to a higher power for protection from the potential horrors posed by a historic merger of the cyclones of coronavirus with the gale force winds of a hurricane’s eye bearing down on Miami, Palm Beach, Orlando, or even New York City.
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