The 2019 Atlantic hurricane season kicks off Saturday, with experts predicting a near-normal year. They’re saying a 40% chance of a normal season, with 30% chances of both stronger and weaker seasons.
NOAA – the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – predicts nine to 15 named storms between June 1 and November 30. Gerry Bell at NOAA says four to eight of them are projected to become hurricanes, and two to four of those could become major storms, with 111 mph winds or higher.
“Four to eight hurricanes is a lot; two to four major hurricanes is a lot,” said Bell. “So the key message is: we’re expecting a near-normal season, but regardless that’s a lot of activity [and] you need to start getting prepared for the hurricane season now.”
From the standpoint of preparedness rather than meteorology, Bell says they saw two completely different sets of impacts last year, from Hurricanes Michael and Florence.
“Florence was approaching the Carolinas -- it weakened, then it stalled; so it produced record rainfall and massive flooding throughout the Carolinas,” Bell said. “Michael was a very strong storm, became a Category-5 storm at landfall, and basically decimated everything in its path.”
For 2019 there are competing climate factors that could affect storms in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico – a weak El Nino and the ongoing high-activity patterns that have been around since 1995. Bell says there’s some uncertainty based on model predictions about how strong each of those factors could be.
“Most models at this point are predicting a weak El Nino with limited impacts; and most models at this point are predicting warmer Atlantic temperatures, but not too warm,” said Bell. “So it looks at this time that a near-normal season is most likely.”
As for getting out of the high-activity pattern, Bell says there’s no indication of that happening anytime soon.
“As far as predicting when it will end, there’s no way to know,” said Bell. “This cycle goes way back into the late 1800s, when we started getting kind of decent ocean data that you can be able to monitor these patterns. But no, there’s no way to know.”
Some non-government forecasters predict a weaker storm season than NOAA, pointing to El Nino. Hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach at Colorado State University has predicted the Atlantic season overall will be about three-quarters as strong as a normal season.
“We’re calling for a total of 13 named storms; of those, five becoming hurricanes and of those five two becoming major – Category 3, 4, 5 hurricanes,” Klotzbach says. “An average season has about six hurricanes and three major hurricanes – just a little bit below the long-term average.”
Klotzbach's team predicts a 48% chance that a storm will hit the U.S. coastline; a 28% chance of Florida's peninsula being hit and a 30% chance for the Gulf coast between Texas and the Florida panhandle. All are slightly below average.
“Living next to the Gulf [of Mexico] is no doubt one of the reasons we love Pensacola; but with all the perks that come with our emerald water views, it does mean we’re susceptible to tropical storms and hurricanes,” says Mayor Grover Robinson, in a video produced by the City of Pensacola.
Robinson offers advice on how to cope with a storm and its aftermath – such as being prepared, whether you’re a resident or just visiting.
“Have a plan for your family; that means knowing your zone and following evacuation orders,” says the Mayor. “If you’ve been ordered to evacuate is Escambia County, we expect your compliance. So identify somewhere your family and your pets will go before hand; it could be a friend or a family’s house outside of the evacuation zone, a hotel, or at last resort a public shelter.”
Also be sure to make a “hurricane kit,” containing enough supplies to help you get past the initial post-hurricane outages and interruptions.
“You know the saying -- ‘the first 72 [hours] are on you – if we get hit by a storm, emergency services could be affected,” said Robinson. “So have enough food, water and supplies for each person to last three days or longer. You’ll also want to have flashlights; a first-aid kit, and a battery-operated radio.”
To that end, Floridians will have seven days to build a hurricane-season stockpile free of sales taxes, beginning Friday.
And finally, says the Mayor, stay informed.
“Monitor the storm, know how to get official information; and sign up for our emergency alerts,” says Robinson. “We want to keep you and your family safe this season. The City of Pensacola is working closely with Escambia County, and our other emergency partners to ensure that.”
More information is available at www.cityofpensacola.com/beready.
Hurricane season traditionally starts June 1, but last week subtropical storm Andrea briefly popped up in the Atlantic -- marking the fifth straight year a named storm came in May or earlier. The next names on the list are: Barry, Chental, Dorian, Erin, Fernand and Gabrielle.