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State Officials: Prepare Now For Hurricane Season

Posted May 22, 2006

— A hectic, above-normal tropical storm season could produce between four and six major hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico this year, but conditions don't appear ripe for a repeat of last year's record activity, the National Hurricane Center predicted on Monday.

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    Forecasters predict up to 16 named storms, which would be significantly less than last year's record 28 -- with up to 10 becoming hurricanes. Up to six will be storms with a Category 3 strength, or higher.

    As part of North Carolina's "Hurricane Preparedness Week," state officials urged all residents to begin planning now for any storms.

    "The message we are trying to get across is that people have to take some individual responsibility for their own health and safety," said Bryan Beatty, secretary for North Carolina Crime Control and Public Safety Department, on Monday. "We saw in Hurricane Katrina, many people have no evacuation plan and left home without basic supplies they needed -- food, water and medicine."

    A recent Elon University poll found that 57 percent of residents surveyed in five southern coastal states have done nothing to prepare for the upcoming hurricane season. That statistic has state emergency leaders concerned.

    All state residents are being urged to put an emergency preparedness kit together now, find out where their closest emergency shelter is located and map out the best evacuation route.

    The state is also launching a new public awareness campaign aimed at encouraging people to prepare now for hurricane season. It includes billboards and a

    Web site

    .

    Last year, Hurricane Ophelia was the only storm that hit the North Carolina coast, but Beatty reminded the public Monday of previous years and the importance for residents in all parts of the state to be prepared.

    "Anyone who was here in 2004 knows that the mountains are also at risk for flooding and landslides," he said. "Those who remember Hugo and Fran know that the central part of our state can also be hit very hard."

    The Atlantic seasons were relatively mild from the 1970s through 1994. Since then, all but two years have been above normal.

    Experts say the world is in the midst of a 20-year-cycle that will continue to bring strong storms.

    Between 1995 and 2005, the Atlantic season has averaged 15 named storms, just over eight named hurricanes and four major hurricanes, according to the National Hurricane Center.

    Before this latest above-normal cycle, from 1971 to 1994, there were an average of 8.5 named storms, five hurricanes and just over one major hurricane.

    Last year, officials predicted 12 to 15 tropical storms, seven to nine of them becoming hurricanes, and three to five of those hurricanes being major, with winds of at least 111 mph.

    But the season turned out to be much busier, breaking records that had stood since 1851. Last season there were 15 hurricanes, seven of which were Category 3 or higher.

    In the center's detailed 2006 prediction report, meteorologists said water in the Atlantic is not as warm as it was at this stage in 2005. Warm water is a key fuel for hurricane development.

    Also, it is not clear whether atmospheric conditions that helped produce the 2005 storms will repeat again this year, forecasters said.

    Last month, Colorado State University forecasters issued a similar forecast, predicting up to 17 named storms. The forecast of William Gray and Phillip Klotzbach called for nine hurricanes, five of them intense.

    The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.

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