It’s June 1 and though the skies may be clear now and the seas calm, islanders know that this is the start of hurricane season, the start of six months of keeping one eye on the weather at all times.
In its May 27 forecast, the Climate Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from Wednesday through Nov. 30, will most likely be near-normal. Similarly, the team at Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Department have predicted 2016 will be 95 percent of normal, with a 40 percent chance of a named storm making landfall in the Caribbean.
NOAA, however, added a caveat – temperature signals that aid meteorologists in making their predictions are particularly hard to read this year.
“This is a more challenging hurricane season outlook than most because it’s difficult to determine whether there will be reinforcing or competing climate influences on tropical storm development,” said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with the Climate Prediction Center. "However, a near-normal prediction for this season suggests we could see more hurricane activity than we’ve seen in the last three years, which were below normal.”
NOAA predicted a 70 percent likelihood of 10 to 16 named storms – that is, storms with winds of at least 39 mph – of which four to eight could become hurricanes – winds of 74 mph or greater. Those should include one to four major hurricanes – Category 3, 4 or 5, with winds of 111 mph or greater.
While a near-normal season is most likely, with a 45 percent chance of a normal season, there is also a 30 percent chance of an above-normal season and a 25 percent chance of a below-normal season, NOAA predicted. That number includes two pre-season events that have already come and gone – Hurricane Alex, which formed over the far eastern Atlantic in January, and Tropical Storm Bonnie, which came ashore on the Carolinas over the Memorial Day weekend, dumping 7 to 10 inches of rain and causing some flash flooding in South Carolina before weakening.
"There’s nothing brewing out there right now," said Dennis Feltgen at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
But islanders know that the weather on June 1 means nothing about the season to come and, though the forecasts are reassuring, it only takes one storm to ruin your whole year. It’s time now, before a storm system forms out in the Atlantic and takes aim on the Antilles, to get prepared.
The Virgin Islands Territorial Management Agency offers these tips.
– Make a kit. Your emergency supply kit should include such items as nonperishable food, water, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, extra flashlights and batteries. You also may want to prepare a portable kit and keep it in your car.
Your kit should also include copies of prescription medications and medical supplies, bedding and spare clothing, bottled water (the usual formula is a gallon per person per day, which is a lot of water so starting to stockpile it now is just good sense), a first aid kit, copies of important documents (birth certificate, Social Security card, proof of residence, insurance policies, deeds etc.).
– Don’t forget family pets. Make sure your emergency kit includes several days of food for your cat, dog or other pet, along with any medications they may need and any health records.
– Have some cash on hand. In the aftermath of a hurricane the power might be out for several days (and we all know of storms where power was out for much longer). ATM’s need electricity to run, so if the power is out, so is the money.
– Make a family emergency plan. Your family may not be together when disaster strikes, so it is important to know how you will contact one another, how you will get back together and what you will do in case of an emergency, VITEMA urged. Plan places where your family will meet, both within and outside of your immediate neighborhood. Inquire about emergency plans at places where your family spends time: work, daycare or school.
– Batten the hatches! Two days before a storm hits is too late to start thinking about tightening up your house. If you don’t have storm shutters, June would be a great time to at least acquire plywood, nails and screws, and other material for boarding up your windows and doors. By the same token, if you’ve got an emergency generator but haven’t used it in a while, now is the time to test it, to change the oil and tune it up if need be so that when the power goes out, you can still have some lights. And make sure you’ve got fuel (in certified, appropriate containers) because the same thing we said about ATMs applies to gas pumps – no electricity means no gas pumps down at the service station.
– If you have to evacuate, decide now where you would go. Identify several places you could go in an emergency, a friend’s home in another town, a motel or public shelter. If you do not have a car, plan alternate means of evacuating. If you have a car, keep at least a half tank of gas in it at all times in case you need to evacuate.