Last year could have been The Big One.
In August, Hurricane Laura was bearing down the western shores of the Gulf of Mexico, and it looked like a monster. As it grew into a Category 4 storm, the potential threat to Galveston looked so severe island officials called the first mandatory evacuation in more than a decade.
Laura ultimately turned north and slammed into the Louisiana coast. But the closest call for Galveston in recent years brought a reminder of timeless advice that’s repeated every hurricane season: have a plan on where you’re going before it’s too late.
Like last year, experts advise people to consider not only hurricanes but the pandemic while making emergency plans. While cases of COVID-19 have decreased in early 2021, the public health emergency isn’t over, and there are still extra things to consider during the public health emergency.
The headline advice about getting ready for hurricane season remains the same as it ever was, officials said. Everyone should make a plan, build an emergency kit and stay informed.
State, county and federal officials have published evacuation plans on where and when residents should go in case an evacuation is called. Some plans are more specific than others. In Galveston, for instance, the city has a designated evacuation site where people who don’t have their own transportation off the island can meet with buses for transportation.
If your city doesn’t have a pre-arranged plan where to get evacuation assistance, you should make sure to sign up for local emergency alerts that will give you information during a storm. A list of emergency alert signups is available at gcoem.org/mass-notification-alerts.
Keep in mind, if you evacuate on publicly provided buses, you won’t have much choice on where to go or the conditions you stay in.
Galveston County has agreements with the city of Austin to house evacuees in partnership with the Red Cross. Traditionally, shelters are set up in large spaces, like a convention center. But last year, because of the virus, officials arranged for evacuees to stay in hotels in order to keep people spread out and isolated during the pandemic.
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, officials said. People who are able to find other places to shelter, should do so — 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 and to take the virus into consideration when preparing your hurricane kit.
The Federal Emergency Management Administration published guidance about how to prepare for hurricanes during the pandemic.
The agency suggests buying extra hand sanitizer, cleaning materials and face coverings as part of emergency kits. Stocking up early will help ease shortages in the aftermath of a major storm, officials said. It’s normal for there to be shortages of some essential supplies for days after a hurricane comes ashore. Even in the days before landfall, there can be rushes at supermarkets and other stores as people seek items they realize they don’t have and would need during a storm and its aftermath.
WHAT ARE THE CHANCES
Some models published in advance of the start of the season are predicting an active hurricane season this year. One forecast, published by Penn State’s Earth System Science Center, predicted that there would be between nine and 15 named storms in the Atlantic this year. At Colorado State University, forecasters have called for as many as 17 named storms.
But, while predictions can be made ahead of a hurricane season, it’s impossible to know how many storms actually will form. Last year was a prime example.
In 2020, the hurricane season produced 30 named storms, the most ever recorded in a single year. Of those, 14 became hurricanes and six became major hurricanes.
In Texas, the most significant storms of 2020 were tropical storms Beta and Delta, which made landfall north and south of Galveston within weeks of each other in September and October. Like Laura, the worst of the storms missed Galveston County, but it still caused significant damage. Winds and tides destroyed piers and toppled trees, and storm surges flattened dunes on the West End and on Bolivar Peninsula. Beta’s rain also brought worries and calls for evacuations from homes near creeks and bayous on the mainland.
The last storm to hit Galveston County hard was Hurricane Harvey, which flooded tens of thousands of homes in August 2017, after making landfall in South Texas.