The 2013 Atlantic hurricane season, which opens this Saturday, June 1, is forecast to be another extremely active one, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center.
In its preseason outlook released late last week, NOAA predicts a 70-percent likelihood of between 13 and 20 named storms—those with sustained winds of 39 mph or greater—for the Atlantic basin, which includes the North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, for the six-month season.
Of these named storms, seven to 11 could become hurricanes—storms with winds of 74 mph or higher—including three to six major hurricanes of categories 3, 4 or 5, which are those with winds of 111 mph or higher.
The predicted ranges are well above the seasonal average of 12 named storms and six hurricanes, of which three are major, the outlook notes.
The prediction cannot, however, estimate how many storms will actually make landfall or where, explained Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesman for the National Hurricane Center, which is based in Miami, Florida. “That kind of long-range science doesn’t exist,” he said.
As a result, people should prepare for hurricane season regardless of the outlook, he advised. “Storms are steered by the weather patterns that surround them at the time, but we need to be ready for them,” he said.
“Even if it predicted 100 storms out there, or if it only predicted one storm, if that one storm hits you, it’s a really bad year,” he continued. “You have to go into hurricane season thinking, ‘This is the year I’m going to get hit, and this is the year I need to be ready for it.’”
The Atlantic basin has been in an active hurricane cycle since 1995, when “it was like a switch was thrown, and we went back into this active hurricane cycle—and we are still in that cycle,” he said. Active cycles can stretch for 20, 30 or even 40 years.
Three climate factors that NOAA says strongly control Atlantic hurricane activity—and are expected to come together to produce an active season this year—are as follows: a continuation of an atmospheric climate pattern that includes strong west African monsoons that help create hurricanes; warmer-than-average water temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea; and the lack of El Niño, a warm ocean current that typically develops after late December along the coast of Ecuador and Peru, and that helps suppress hurricane formation.
NOAA expects to update its outlook in July, just prior to the historical peak of the hurricane season.
“If the hurricane warning flags go up and you don’t have a plan in place, you’re going to be forced to make some really fast decisions under duress,” Mr. Feltgen said. “And when you make decisions under duress, that’s how you’re not going to make the right decision. So now is the time to be thinking about all of this, way before the flags are flying.”
Most important is for residents to have a hurricane plan and to find out if they live in an evacuation zone. If so, they should know where to go in case of evacuation. If not, they should know if their houses would withstand hurricane winds. If they can, having specific supplies—nonperishable foods, water and medication to last one week per person—is a must.
Water, one of the operative words of the 2012 storm season, is another key this year, he said, noting that most people think first of wind when they hear about hurricanes. But it is actually the water—from storm surges, inland flooding and heavy rain—that creates the most damage and causes the most fatalities.
Randy Hintze, Southampton Town’s emergency preparedness coordinator, said storm preparations locally remain much the same as last year, when Hurricane Sandy blasted the Eastern Seaboard. Residents with special needs, he said, should register with the town’s Human Services Department, through its senior program, as well as with the Long Island Power Authority.
“We are going to remain vigilant in our monitoring of storms and our assessments of pre-storm preparedness, and our post-storm recovery, should we have anything,” he said.
Deputy Town Supervisor Frank Zappone added that Southampton Town is seeking to improve its internal communications and always working on better ways to get information to the public.
East Hampton Town Police Chief Ed Ecker Jr., like Mr. Hintze, said his department largely follows the same plans every year.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in a statement this week, which happens to be National Hurricane Preparedness Week, listed several safety tips that mirror Mr. Feltgen’s. In addition to making an evacuation plan and stocking up on food, medicine and water, it recommends backup supplies of all things used every day, including medical records. If residents use electricity to run medical equipment or refrigerate medicine, they should know where to go if the power goes out, where to recharge batteries and whom to call if help is needed getting there.
Knowing how to safely use a backup generator—keeping it outside and away from windows to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning—is also advised.
Finally, it recommends texting, emailing and using social media to let family and friends know that they are out of harm’s way in order to keep the phone lines clear for first responders.