COVID-19 concerns as new hurricane season nears

FILE - In this geocolor GOES-16 file satellite image taken Friday, Sept. 8, 2017, at 11:45 UTC,...
FILE - In this geocolor GOES-16 file satellite image taken Friday, Sept. 8, 2017, at 11:45 UTC, sunlight, from the right, illuminates Hurricane Irma as the storm approaches Cuba and Florida. | Source: NOAA via AP(KALB)
Published: Apr. 16, 2020 at 9:16 PM CDT
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The 2020 Atlantic Basin Hurricane Season begins in 46 days. It is always a bit of an unsettling time of year as residents get mentally ready to face tropical threats and decide how to safeguard their property. This year, however, COVID-19 adds an unpleasant layer of concern as a new hurricane season approaches. Right now, federal, state, and local experts and officials are burning the midnight oil trying to figure out how COVID-19 will change the game plan this year.

The news is not good from a meteorological viewpoint. An active season appears to be brewing. In the Atlantic Basin, most models predict abnormally high ocean temperatures will persist through the entire hurricane season. The Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation (AMO) remains in an active phase. On the Pacific side, a neutral or a La Nina are emerging as the most likely scenarios through the hurricane season. These conditions, when occurring in combination, usually produces well-above-average numbers of tropical storms and hurricanes. I will feel good if we can limit this year to 14 or 15 named storms; however, there is potential for the number to reach or exceed 20 named storms. The entire U.S. coastline also has a higher-than-normal risk of a landfalling storm.

From a societal standpoint, should a hurricane threaten, the typical issue regarding evacuations looms large, particularly if hospitals are involved. Where would evacuees go and would they be welcome in their home away from home? Another aspect is shelters. Could they be properly sanitized? Is it possible to practice social distancing in a cramped space? More shelter locations and more space within the shelter seem necessary. My opinion is to protect yourself against the imminent danger from the storm first and foremost. Unused classrooms could expand capacity. Others may decide to forego shelters in favor of hotels/motels. But would lodging be ready when a hurricane comes knocking? Finally, some folks would rather ride out the storm in their homes. Eventually, search and rescue operations will be done, which may expose volunteers and first responders to the COVID-19 virus. Proper evacuation and sheltering will prove vital.

We all hope that a hurricane and COVID-19 do not coincide. There is a ray of hope in that 80% of all named tropical storms and hurricanes form after July 31. Perhaps by then, things will be getting back closer to "normal." It is my prayer that we do not have an early, major hurricane threaten a large population center.

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