palm trees in wind as hurricane begins

Hurricane season in the Atlantic is upon us, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center is expecting it to be “busy.”

The NOAA outlook predicts “a 60% chance of an above-normal season, a 30% chance of a near-normal season, and only a 10% of a below-normal season.” This, combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, could be a concerning combination because social distancing and health concerns could hinder relief efforts. And disaster conditions could cause the virus to spread.

The Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June 1 to November 30. NOAA scientists are forecasting a range of 13 to 19 named storms, and 6 to 10 to become hurricanes. Of these, scientists predict three to six to be major hurricanes. By contrast, an average hurricane season has 12 named storms, six of which become hurricanes, and of those three major hurricanes.

COVID-19 & Hurricane Season

The pandemic will certainly complicate relief efforts in 2020. It could take longer to restore power or water in the case of outages. Social distancing concerns make it harder to give and receive help from friends and family safely. It will be essential to have sufficient access to personal protective equipment and hand hygiene care, especially in group settings. Access to public transportation — to get to emergency shelters — could be limited. Health and medical systems in some areas are already stressed, hindering their response to natural disasters.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said it would “minimize the number of personnel deploying to disaster-impacted areas” and provide virtual forms of assistance. Counter to previous years, it plans to limit evacuations due to the pandemic and the concern of the virus spreading in shelters. Typically, the American Red Cross manages these shelters, and they contain rows of cots in school gymnasiums, church basements, or sport centers. Evacuees could be exposed to the coronavirus, and the Red Cross is seeking alternative shelter options such as hotel rooms and dormitories. Authorities are planning ahead and allocating twice as much space per person in shelters to allow for social distancing.

Emotionally, a pandemic and natural disaster combined could be overwhelming. Coming on the heels of mass unemployment and civil unrest, the mental stress of this year’s storm season could be catastrophic, no matter how severe it turns out. Financially, some families now have fewer resources to dedicate to preparedness or evacuating, leaving them especially vulnerable.

Be Prepared for Hurricanes

This year, more than ever, it is essential to prepare for hurricane season, wildfires, or other natural disasters that are likely to hit your area. It involves being prepared for two simultaneous disasters — the pandemic and Mother Nature.

As always, it is crucial to follow the recommendations of local authorities on whether to evacuate your area.

Know your evacuation zone and have a route planned. Keep in mind that shelters may be in new locations and have smaller capacities than in recent years. Whenever possible, shelter with family or friends instead of community shelters this year. If you are not sheltering with them, remember to follow social distancing when checking on friends and family.

Refer to the Center for Disease Control has useful information on how to stay healthy and safe in hurricane season during the outbreak.

Advance Planning for Disasters

If a hurricane or other natural disaster disrupts your supply of drinking water, ensure safe ways to acquire alternative supplies of drinking water and methods for purifying it. Creating an emergency supply of drinking water in advance is a smart idea.

Plan ahead to minimize your home’s impact from natural disasters that are likely in your area. For example, remove dead branches, lawn furniture, and toys that might cause damage in a severe storm. Likewise, take action to mitigate your home’s risk of flooding or wildfire damage.

Create an emergency supply kit with non-perishable food, water, medical supplies, necessary medication, a flashlight, a whistle, face masks, hand sanitizer, and other vital items. Create this kit in advance and don’t wait for a forecasted natural disaster to get ready. Keep in mind that stores might have reduced hours, capacities, and supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic, so plan ahead.

Have enough supplies on hand that you could survive on your own for several days. Maintaining a first aid kit helps eliminate the need for medical attention for minor injuries. Install a carbon monoxide detector to warn your family about potential carbon monoxide poisoning. Avoid fallen power lines and always assume they are live unless you know for a fact they are not.

Ensure that your home and valuable belongings have adequate insurance coverage. Refer to the declaration page of your insurance policy to know what is covered,  to avoid surprises. In many policies, hurricane insurance doesn’t cover occupants from flood damage. Liability insurance typically won’t cover damages caused by natural disasters.

Climate Change Affecting Weather Patterns

Research has shown that climate change has been making hurricanes stronger for the last several decades.

“If we want to keep these dangerous patterns from accelerating, we need urgent action by government and private sector leaders to shift us away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy,” said Jennifer Francis, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center in a statement.

By Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.