The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has released its report on the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season, which starts June 1.
The agency is predicting nine to 15 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), four to eight hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher) and two to four major hurricanes (with winds of 111 mph or higher).
The report said that while warmer sea surface temperatures provide power for storms, a Pacific Ocean weather pattern called El Niño may inhibit storm development in the Atlantic this season.
El Niño winds create more wind shear in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean and can cut the top off some developing storms, either eliminating them or weakening them.
Ben Kirtman, a professor at the University of Miami Department of Atmospheric Sciences, said there are three key ingredients that contribute to the development of strong hurricanes:
— Extreme rainfall
— Storm surge
— Sea-level rise
He said that the higher sea level today can create flooding that “is significantly more profound” than the storm surge Hurricane Andrew – a particularly powerful category 5 storm — produced in 1992.
The rising temperature of the sea produces more moisture in the atmosphere, which in turn serves as “the fuel for driving a hurricane,” Kirtman said.
He said that the best protection for South Florida are “natural protections … like mangroves.” His advice for Floridians this storm season is “hope for the best and plan for the worst.”
In South Florida, emergency officials in Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties offer this guidance.
Jim Murley, Chief Resilience Officer of Miami-Dade County, said his department addresses long-term recovery.
Past projections are what he looks at although “there is that degree of uncertainty — Hurricane Andrew, a catastrophic, category 5 hit Miami Dade County in a season with a low number of hurricanes. It only takes one big one,” Murley said.
He noted that media do a great job advising residents how to “prepare and keep yourself updated.”
In The Keys, county official Rhonda Haag said, “we are still in recovery” from Hurricane Irma in 2017. She said she wants to ensure that her county will be able to cope with long-term climate threats. She noted that Monroe is raising some roads to deal with chronic flooding. The project will take two years to complete.
Jennifer Jurado, Director of Resiliency for Broward County, said residents must prepare early for hurricane season and storms brewing out at sea.
If you have to evacuate, make sure you have all your critical documents in a secure place with ease of access.
For most storms, you stay in your home. You need to prepare early to avoid long lines and shortages. Consider basic necessities and then types of materials you might need to clean up.
Figure out which neighbors have which resources, she said. Perhaps you can share resources and save money.
Bill Johnson, Palm Beach County’s Director of Emergency Management, urges residents “to take hurricanes seriously.” He noted that 70 percent of Floridians say they are prepared for a storm, but that most don’t even have a hurricane kit (go to readypbc.com).
He offered a four-step plan:
–Make a Plan: Know whether you should evacuate. If so, know where you are going to go. If you’re not sure, then stay at your home.
–Have a disaster kit.
–Stay informed by using social media. You can go to: https://twitter.com/hashtag/pcbdem?src=hash
–Help your neighbors as best you can.
He emphasized that “if don’t need to evacuate, DON’T.” Unnecessary evacuations clog roads, create fuel shortages and jam hotels. Studies show that 7 percent of storm-related fatalities are due to evacuation, he said.
Storm season has one clear benefit, he said.
After every storm, Johnson sees “humanity in action, where people act smartly and get through together.”
Benita Goldstein is a freelance writer who lives in Delray Beach.
“The Invading Sea” is a collaboration of four South Florida media organizations — the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post and WLRN Public Media.