The official start of the Atlantic hurricane season began June 1 and local meteorologists advise Eastern North Carolina residents to be prepared for an above-normal season.
During a webinar held May 21, National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist Erik Heden and NWS science operations officer Ryan Ellis said the National Hurricane Center (NHC) is predicting an above-normal season.
The NHC is forecasting 13 to 19 named storms for 2020, of which six to 10 may reach hurricane strength, with the chance of three to six major hurricanes.
Many local Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station New River residents are still recovering from the damage caused by Hurricane Florence in 2018, which made landfall in coastal North Carolina and passed through Eastern North Carolina.
“To maintain a high degree of preparedness, coordination is always on-going between MCAS New River, MCB Camp Lejeune, surrounding counties and North Carolina’s government, in addition to private businesses and volunteer organizations,” said Kert Lang, emergency manager for MCAS New River. “Our decisions and actions are considerate of each other’s needs, capabilities and limitations, because disasters, regardless of it occurring on or off base, don’t recognize a fence line, and we are all living and working in the same community.”
Community members should be making preparations now for the hurricane season.
“Anytime from May onward, we’re at risk for tropical cyclones,” Heden said. “You (coastal residents) should be ramping up preparations now.”
This year, the NWS and NHC have added two new improvements to their hurricane forecasting services.
A 60-hour forecast will be added to hurricane and tropical storm track forecasts and an experimental peak storm surge forecast graphic.
Over the last 20 years, Ellis said from his experience a lot of improvement has been made to forecasting the track of hurricanes and tropical storms. However, forecasting the intensity of hurricanes and storms is still a challenge.
Heden advised caution when deciding whether or not to evacuate in the face of an oncoming storm. He cited examples of storms and hurricanes which changed in intensity quickly and unexpectedly.
“We’re not the best at intensity forecasting,” he said. “We may not have many days to consider evacuating like we did with Florence.”
Heden also advised not to focus too much on a hurricane’s category stating the category is only measured by the wind speeds and there are other more dangerous hazards produced by severe tropical weather.
“Since 2010, we’ve had 175 hurricane and tropical storm-related deaths and billions of dollars in damages from Category 1 hurricanes,” Heden said. “Water is what kills; 90 percent of the deaths were related to rain and storm surge.”
Heden said half of all tropical weather-related deaths since 2016 have occurred in vehicles and encouraged residents to “turn around, don’t drown” when approaching roadways with standing water or debris.
“It only takes six inches of moving water to knock an adult off their feet, and only two feet to sweep a vehicle away,” Heden said.
Additional hazards such as rip currents, wind and tornadoes can come during a hurricane or tropical storm, Heden said.
In the event there is a need for evacuation or shelter, base leaders are positioned to support those who may be displaced.
“We are reviewing Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guidance and planning considerations for managing hurricane response and recovery operations while in a COVID-19 environment,” Lang said. “There will certainly be some changes to how we staff and manage shelters, and how we maintain separation of healthy populations from those infected.”
To better prepare or stay informed during hurricanes, officials recommend to make a plan and build emergency kits designed for their unique needs, and also prepare for COVID-19 precautions.
“Know where emergency shelters are and have more than one way to receive weather alerts such as battery powered weather radio, TV, weather apps, etc.,” said Chris Royal, emergency manager for MCB Camp Lejeune. “Ensure you pack hand sanitizer, soap, and two cloth face coverings for each person.”
To lower the risk of spreading COVID-19, shelter preparations include additional cleaning, the wearing of face mask coverings and temperature screenings.
“Emergency sheltering is one service normally provided on Camp Lejeune for those who may feel the need to relocate for safety,” Royal said. “Our shelter teams are planning special precautions to lower the risk of spreading COVID-19, however, individuals and families are encouraged to consider other options such as making arrangements to stay with family or friends where possible.”
Officials stress the importance of making preparations now. With COVID-19 restrictions still in place, media and social media are our primary tools for pushing out up to date information. The ReadyNC.org and Ready.Marines.mil websites offer information to help prepare for destructive weather and many other types of hazards.
“The steps taken now can go a long way toward making what could be a devastating emergency into something much more manageable and tolerable for all of us, and ultimately, protect the force and our collective ability to conduct our mission,” Lang said.