It has always been a good idea to know where you’re going to go if the Big One enters the Gulf of Mexico.
One of the most consistent pieces of advice from experts and public safety officials before each of the Atlantic hurricane season, which begins June 1, is to have an evacuation plan about where you will go if you have to abandon the coast as a hurricane approaches.
In the age of coronavirus, when people are being urged to stay apart from each other as much as possible, the warning about having an evacuation plan in place hasn’t gone away — but heeding that has gotten a more complicated.
“Hurricane Season 2020 is going to be a little different,” Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said.
But the headline advice about getting ready for the hurricane season remains the same as it ever was, Henry said.
“We encourage everyone to take the necessary steps to prepare themselves and their family; make that plan, build that kit, and stay informed,” he said.
Evacuation plans and emergency shelter options are among the most important things that the county and state agencies have made plans for this year.
If an evacuation is needed, the state has promised to send extra buses to evacuation hubs so that people can be kept a safe distance from each other while being driven out of the county.
Galveston County has agreements with the city of Austin to provide shelters for some evacuees, and, in May, emergency management officials from the county and the city of Austin, as well as the Red Cross, which runs hurricane shelters, met to discuss what emergency shelters will look like if they’re needed.
It’s possible the Red Cross would attempt to use hotels and motels for sheltering before using facilities such as convention centers or gymnasiums, said Marty McKellips, the CEO of the American Red Cross in Central Texas.
“The intent is to not put them in large shelters where there’s social distancing,” McKellips said. “If it’s possible, our choice will be to always put them in hotels or dormitories or campsites or someplace where families will have individual space.”
Shelters are normally meant for people who have special circumstances and don’t have the means to find another place to stay during a hurricane evacuation, McKellips said. She urged people who are able to do so to find other places to shelter — whether that means arranging with inland relatives or booking lodging in advance.
It’s also important to ensure you’re stocked up with proper supplies ahead of the storm season, officials said, and to take the virus into consideration when preparing your hurricane kit.
In early May, weeks before the beginning of the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season, the Federal Emergency Management Administration published guidance about how to prepare for hurricanes during the pandemic.
The agency suggested buying extra hand sanitizer, cleaning materials and face coverings as part of emergency kits. Stocking up early, if you’re able will help ease shortages in the aftermath of a major storm, said Carlos Castillo, FEMA’s acting deputy administrator of resilience.
“As you prepare, be mindful that not everyone can afford to respond by stocking up on necessities,” Castillo said. “For those who can afford it, making essential purchases in advance will allow for longer time periods between shopping trips and help to protect those who are unable to procure essentials in advance of the pandemic and must shop more frequently.”
Some models published in advance of the start of the season are predicting higher tropical cyclone activity than in 2020. One forecast, published by Penn State’s Earth System Science Center, predicted that would be between 15 and 24 named storms in the Atlantic this year.
Last year, the hurricane season produced 18 named storms. Of those, six became hurricanes, and three became major hurricanes.
In Texas, the most significant storm of 2019 was Tropical Storm Imelda, which made landfall southwest of Galveston on Sept. 17, just two hours after it was officially named. The worst of the storm missed Galveston County, but caused devastating flooding over three days in an area between Houston and Beaumont.
The last storm to severely affect Galveston County was Hurricane Harvey, which flooded tens of thousands of homes in August 2017, after making landfall south of Galveston County.