Dust off your flashlights, test your weather radio and make sure the canned food in your emergency kit hasn’t gone bad: It’s hurricane-preparedness season once again.
With the official start of hurricane season on June 1, millions of Floridians are taking part in familiar rituals of tallying up emergency supplies, firming up evacuation plans and making sure their families are prepared to make it through a hurricane safely.
If you haven’t been diligent about hurricane prep in years past, now is the time to start making it a priority, according to weather forecasting officials, and officials with local governments.
“Hurricanes are not just a coastal event,” said Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center in Miami. “Hurricane-force winds and flooding from the heavy rain can extend for hundreds of miles inland.”
Feltgen said the Climate Prediction Center, a sister agency of the NHC at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, doesn’t release its predictions of the upcoming hurricane season until about a week before the official start of the season.
The outlook will project the number of named storms — those of at least tropical-storm strength (with winds of 39 mph or higher), the number of hurricanes (74 mph or higher), and the number of major hurricanes (Category 3 or stronger, with winds of 111 mph or higher).
But even if the outlook predicts a below-average number of storms, Feltgen said it’d be foolish to dial back your preparedness efforts.
“It is not a forecast of where and when storms will form, or if and where they will make landfall and what the impacts would be,” he said. “That’s why the outlook cannot be used as a guide for preparation.”
While the NHC doesn’t release its seasonal outlook until closer to the start of the season, two other groups — the Colorado State University Tropical Meteorology Project and the Tropical Storm Risk Consortium of University College London — released preseason outlooks in early April.
Colorado State’s outlook calls for 13 named storms, including five hurricanes, with two of those becoming major hurricanes. The Tropical Storm Risk Consortium’s take on the season is nearly identical, but with 12 named storms instead of 13.
Both outlooks are roughly in line with an average season, which NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center defines as 12.1 named storms, 6.4 of which become hurricanes and 2.7 of which become major hurricanes.
Still, the outlooks are purely informational, officials stress, and preparedness should be paramount.
A kit of basic emergency supplies includes, at a minimum, three-day supplies of food and water, along with flashlights, a first-aid kit, batteries, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio (and a NOAA weather radio), necessary medications for people and pets, and other basic necessities.
Preparedness also entails knowing some important and potentially lifesaving information. That includes knowing evacuation plans and shelter locations, among other things.
A full outline of steps to take before, during and after a storm can be found at www.ready.gov/hurricanes, while a list of components for a basic emergency kit can be found at www.ready.gov/build-a-kit.
Local governments in West Volusia take their own steps to prepare.
“We usually start in May and do a self-assessment, and we go over any items we were working on over the last of the year, and any footnotes from last season that we need to change and deal with,” DeLand City Manager Michael Pleus said. “We talk about making sure that we have anything from sandbags to arrangements for fuel and water. It’s just kind of a big checklist you have to go through.”
Pleus said it’s important for citizens to know where to get up-to-date information. For example, DeLand puts out information for its residents on the city’s Facebook page, among other places.
Volusia County puts out emergency information through its Public Information Network, available at www.volusia.org/PIN. The county also operates a hotline during disasters — 1-866-345-0345 — which citizens can call for up-to-date information.
If cellphone networks go down, information can be had via radio, on 90.7 WMFE-FM, which is part of the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network.
Pleus said the city also takes steps to make sure some of its most vulnerable citizens, those at assisted-living facilities, will be safe during a storm.
“We’ve developed a good checklist with the ALFs, making sure they’re prepared, as well,” he said.