Storm season 2020: Florida prepares for hurricane season amid coronavirus pandemic

Article Courtesy of  The Palm Beach Post

By Julius Whigham II

Published  June 5, 2020


Storm season 2020: As the season officially begins Monday, the state is dealing with a coronavirus pandemic. What can we expect if the worst-case scenario occurs?


With Floridians already facing daily challenges because of the coronavirus pandemic, the first day of June marks the beginning of another concern — the official start of hurricane season.

And by all indications, this season will be another busy one.

The six-month Atlantic hurricane season begins Monday, with multiple major forecasters predicting above-normal activity.

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center said it expects to see 13 to 19 named storms in 2020, including six to 10 that could become hurricanes and three to six that could develop into a major hurricane, meaning Category 3 strength or higher. An average storm season has 12 named storms, including six hurricanes and three major hurricanes


Another signal it could be a busier-than normal hurricane season is the lack of an El Niņo and higher expectations that a La Niņa could develop during the peak of hurricane season — August through October.

NASA hurricane storm image for hurricane guide cover


While an El Niņo tends to reduce tropical systems with higher wind shear, a La Niņa is more conducive to burgeoning systems.

With the pandemic, we’re preparing for multiple scenarios

Amid the backdrop of a pandemic that has claimed more than 2,000 lives in Florida and more than 100,000 nationwide, state and local emergency management officials are preparing for the possibility of facing synchronized disasters.

During a Florida Cabinet teleconference Thursday, Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz discussed the state’s recommendations to counties.

If a hurricane threatens, some evacuation requests may be replaced by stay-at-home orders as officials try to minimize the spread of coronavirus.

“We only want people to evacuate if they have to evacuate,” Moskowitz said. “If you live in a newer structure, newer home and newer building code and the storm is of a lower category ... sheltering in place may be the safest thing for you and your family.”

The state also is recommending that counties follow CDC recommendations and offer non-congregate shelters, such as hotels, as an alternative to traditional shelters.

The state so far has signed up 200 hotels, with county emergency management officials having the ability to pre-register evacuees. If possible, shelters should limit capacity to 50 people, Moskowitz said. The state also recommends every one entering a shelter be screened, and that separate spaces be provided for those who fall ill.

The CDC recommends that those evacuating to shelters include items such as hand sanitzer, liquid or bar soap, and cloth masks in their hurricane preparation kits.

Is it possible we’ll be threatened by another major hurricane?

If the predictions hold true — calling for an above-normal hurricane season with as many as four major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher — it will be the fifth consecutive year for unusually-high activity. It also would follow some of the most devastating hurricanes in history.

Since 2016, six Category 5 hurricanes have formed, beginning with Matthew in 2016, followed by 2017's Irma and Maria, 2018's Michael and 2019's Dorian and Lorenzo.

Here’s a look at some of those storms:

Hurricane Matthew, 2016: It was one of the first recent near-misses for Florida. It bore down on the Sunshine State with 140-mph winds, but we were left relatively unscathed as it then buzzed up Florida’s Atlantic coast. However, Haiti wasn’t as lucky as it suffered catastrophic damage and, ultimately, a humanitarian crisis. Matthew would eventually become the 10th most destructive storm in U.S. history.

Hurricane Irma, 2017: It followed up the next year and hammered the Florida Keys. Irma’s power was mitigated by Cuba’s northern coast. So the strong Category 4 storm was beat down some before it reached the Florida Straits. It weakened slightly before making its first landfall on Sept. 10, 2017 at Cudjoe Key. A subtle wiggle west that made Marco Island its second landfall target kept Irma’s deepest and deadliest storm surge away from Naples, Fort Myers and Tampa.

Hurricane Michael, 2018: It blasted into Florida’s Panhandle as a Category 5 Goliath, an upgrade from the storm’s original Cat 4 status and one that elevated it into the highest echelon of land-falling horrors. Michael’s wind speeds were 160 mph when it reached Tyndall Air Force Base southeast of Panama City. Michael left about 22,000 Panhandle residents homeless resulted in total insured losses of almost $7 billion.

Hurricane Dorian, 2019: This monster sat on our doorstep which what felt like weeks. The extra-long Labor Day weekend was packed with shuttering, endless storm watching and nail biting for South Floridians as Dorian made a record and unpredicted ramp-up from tropical storm to Category 5 and then just parked on the Bahamas. A slowdown in Dorian’s forward speed allowed the Bermuda High to shimmy to the east, making room for the hurricane to jag northwest as an upper-level trough swooped in to save South Florida. That gain, however, left the northern Bahamas to Dorian’s repeated battering, with up to 185-mph winds. The damage to the Bahamas was catastrophic, with many structures flattened and more than 70,000 left homeless.

So far this year we’ve already had two named storms

The hurricane season had an early start with two named storms — Tropical Storm Arthur and Tropical Storm Bertha — forming in May. Arthur skirted the North Carolina coast, while Bertha made landfall near Charleston, S.C., bringing heavy rainfall.

The peak of hurricane season runs from August through October, with the strongest storms often occurring during those months. During the early summer months, most storms form in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.

Just one major hurricane on record has hit the United States in June, Hurricane Audrey, which in 1957 made landfall in western Louisiana as a Category 3.

Hurricane Dennis made landfall southeast of Pensacola on July 10, 2005 as a Category 3.

While this hurricane season may be unique, experts say those in hurricane zones should prepare with the same sense of urgency that they have had in the past.

“You should prepare for this season like every other season — with the assumption that you are going to get hit,” said Dennis Feltgen, meteorologist and spokesman for the National Hurricane Center. “Those living in hurricane-prone areas such as South Florida should be preparing now.”