The Center Square – The “Mean Season” forecast calls for pain, and Floridians already stressed with the COVID-19 emergency are more on edge than usual as hurricane season begins Monday.
According to a survey by Sachs Media Group of 1,500 Florida voters on behalf of Get Ready, Florida!, the annual statewide public education initiative, 51 percent feel a “heightened concern” about hurricanes this year.
Nearly all survey respondents cited one “significant” hurricane-related concern, from an added burden on first responders to the possibility of additional business closures, leading to yet more damage to the state’s coronavirus-hammered economy.
“COVID-19 has created a very real, sustained sense of anxiety, and that’s even before the wild card of a major hurricane,” Get Ready, Florida! partner and FAIR Foundation President and CEO Jay Neal said. “Add hurricane season to the uncertainty of the pandemic, and you introduce another set of serious issues to worry about.”
According to three key season forecasters, there’s plenty to worry about – even without a pandemic.
All predict a more active hurricane season beyond the average of 12 named storms and six hurricanes. Even before the season officially has begun, two named tropical storms have drenched the Carolinas.
In March, Accuweather forecast 14 to 18 named storms, seven to nine hurricanes and two to four major storms of Category 3 or higher.
In April, the Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State University’s (CSU) Department of Atmospheric Science predicted 16 named storms, including eight hurricanes, with four major storms, including at least one making landfall on the U.S. East and/or Gulf coasts.
This month, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast “a likely range of 13 to 19 named storms, of which six to 10 could become hurricanes, including three to six major storms.”
Uncertainty over where and how to evacuate or find shelter without being exposed to COVID-19 was cited as a concern by 47 percent of survey respondents.
“Social distancing will change the way we shelter people in a hurricane, without a doubt,” former FEMA and Florida Department of Emergency Management (DEM) director Craig Fugate said. “For instance, everyone should add masks to their family hurricane kit. But if you’re told to evacuate, you still need to heed those orders and get out to a safer place.”
Florida officials have taken measures to address hurricane preparation amid the COVID-19 emergency, including the Florida Public Service Commission’s plan to establish more staging areas to reduce massing of relief workers, shifts to single-serve packaging of food and revamped sleeping arrangements for electrical restoration crews.
DEM Director Jared Moskowitz said in early May his agency is developing evacuation plans designed to reduce crowding in shelters.
Meanwhile, Florida’s seven-day hurricane preparation sales tax holiday began Friday. It allows residents to purchase items in DEM’s disaster supply kit without paying sales taxes.
“This year, it’s more important than ever to have seven days of supplies ready for hurricane season,” Moskowitz said. “The forecasts are calling for an active hurricane season, and now is the time to prepare. I’m urging every Floridian to take advantage of this sales tax holiday to get these critical supplies like food, water and medicine, and remember to also have COVID-19 supplies like hand sanitizer, a mask and disinfectant wipes in your disaster kit.”
“Every Florida resident and visitor needs to be ready for hurricane season and have a plan in place in case disaster strikes,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday in Boca Raton. “Through past storms and this unprecedented COVID-19 emergency, Floridians have demonstrated how resilient we are in the face of adversity. We must continue to be diligent and prepare now with the proper supplies.”