The 2020 hurricane season starts Monday with two named storms already in the record books and a prediction for lots more to come.
NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center says 13 to 19 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher) are likely in 2020. Of those, six to 10 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including three to six major hurricanes (Category 3 to 5; with 111 mph winds or higher).
The AccuWeater hurricane team predicts 14 to 20 tropical storms with seven to 11 becoming hurricanes (four to six major hurricanes).
These predictions compare to the historical “average” season which is around 10 named storms with six becoming hurricanes and two to three major storms.
“It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have an effect on us,” Wharton County Emergency Management Coordinator Andy Kirkland said. “We have to plan every year like we’re going to get hit.”
Hurricanes need warm water to spawn and, right now, the Gulf of Mexico is much warmer than normal, according to Kirkland. “That doesn’t give us much time to prepare, if it starts in the Gulf,” he said.
Despite any economic hardships suffered as a result of the pandemic, preparation is vital. The public needs to have hurricane kits with water, food and other supplies ready just in case a storm enters or forms within the Gulf, he said, adding, this year more than just the standards may be needed.
“People are going to need masks they can wear and other supplies if they can find them,” Kirkland said, adding he hopes the prolonged strain of the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t cause people to neglect seasonal hurricane planning.
A major storm could hit the area any year, possibly with only a few days warning. There’s no way to predict exact strikes until the storms begin to form and move. Even then, each hurricane track includes a “cone of uncertainty” that narrows as the storm nears land.
People wanting local alerts can sign up at https://local.nixle.com/city.tx./wharton.
With COVID-19 concerns, “people would be much more comfortable if they left early,” he said, especially if their evacuation plan is to go to a Red Cross shelter established north of I-10.
With social distancing requirements, shelters will fill up faster and it’s unknown how many more will be able to open.
The answer, however, isn’t to hunker down and hope, especially if you are living in a mobile home or travel trailer.
“If you live in a mobile home or travel trailer, you have to plan on getting out of there. It is not going to be safe in a 50 mph wind,” Kirkland said.
Red Cross shelters will not be established in Wharton County, it’s an evacuation county, too close to the coast for safety’s sake.
The Atlantic hurricane season is June 1 to Nov. 30, peaking between late July and early October for the Gulf Coast.
The 2019 hurricane season included 10 tropical storms, two Category 1 hurricanes, one Category 2 hurricane and three major hurricanes.
The most active hurricane season on record was 2005 that saw 27 named storms with 14 hurricanes and seven major hurricanes including hurricanes Katrina and Rita.