A Juggling Act

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Understandably, our industry’s current focus is on covid-19 and turning around the economy. However, hurricane season begins in just 26 days, and there are some discomforting predictions that we’re going to see more and stronger storms. It raises questions about planning and funding for potential hurricane disasters.

Dealers, marina owners and boatbuilders located along the coast from Texas to the Maine could be directly hit at some point this year. While predictions vary, they all have news we don’t want to hear.

For example, Penn State’s Earth System Science Center anticipates the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season (including the Gulf of Mexico) will see between 15 and 24 named tropical storms, with a best estimate of 20 storms. That would put 2020 in record territory. Moreover, the chance of at least one major hurricane making landfall somewhere along our coast is 95 percent. Last year wehad 18 named storms, matching 1969 for the fourth most-active season in the past 150 years.

The Weather Channel is predicting a total of 18 named storms, nine of them hurricanes. Four of these hurricanes are expected to be “major” of Category 3 or higher. A Cat 3 storm has sustained winds between 111 to 129 mph. That’s higher than the seasonal average of 12 named storms, including six hurricanes, determined by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

Other researchers also predicted above-normal activity, including forecasters at Colorado State University and experts known as “Tropical Storm Risk” at University College London. These groups all point to high sea-surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic as the key driver. Right now, temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico are more than 3 degrees above average. Essentially, warm, moist air evaporating from the ocean acts as fuel for hurricanes, pumping water into the atmosphere and driving the cycle forward.

“The Atlantic surface temperature is forecasted to be one of the warmest since 1993,” says Phil Klotzbach at University of Arizona. “We anticipate an above-average probability for major hurricanes making landfall along the continental United States coastline and in the Caribbean. As is the case with all hurricane seasons, coastal residents are reminded that it only takes one hurricane making landfall to make it an active season for them. They should prepare the same for every season, regardless of how much activity is predicted,” he says.

The coronavirus pandemic has distracted attention from hurricane considerations. For example, the normal Hurricane Planning Conference and statewide exercise in Florida was canceled because of the virus. And scientists are warning that social distancing could be extremely complicated if citizens must shelter in schools and similar buildings where cots are lined up in close quarters. Would it be safer to move people, especially high-risk citizens, away from the storm surge and put them in tightly packed convention centers? Someone will have to decide.

When hurricanes hit, states also depend on workers from the federal level to help with recovery efforts. But agencies such as the FEMA are already down in personnel to lead field operations because of covid-19. In addition, unlike previous years, states and local governments are already using funds to battle covid-19 that would be available for hurricane recovery efforts.

For all members of the marine industry along the 2,600-plus-mile Gulf and Atlantic coastline, now is the time to gather the team and work out a detailed plan of who does what if it becomes necessary to take action during this hurricane season.

Four Category 5 hurricanes that recently struck the coasts were tropical storms just three days before they made landfall. That’s a sober reminder of why we should prepare before the season begins.


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