The trend of active hurricane seasons over the past 20 years — topped off by last year’s record-breaking 30 named storms— makes comprehensive planning even more essential for residents of coastal areas.
Eleven of the 16 most active seasons in the Atlantic Basin have occurred since the year 2000.
With initial predictions for another above-average season, there is no reason to think this trend will not continue. Reflecting this and data over the past 30 years, the National Hurricane Center has increased the average number of named storms a year from 12 to 14 and the number of hurricanes from six to seven.
But this is not the only lesson to be learned from the 2020 hurricane season and those of recent years.
A second lesson is that we should begin planning early for hurricane season and not wait until the season is fully underway. With named storms forming earlier than June 1 over the past six seasons, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is considering a change in the the official hurricane season start date from the traditional June 1 date to May 15 by next year.
A third lesson is that residents of coastal and flood-prone inland areas should seriously consider obtaining flood insurance even if they are outside the 100-year flood zone.
Southeast Texas has experienced five 500-year floods over the past six years, said Jack Holt, consulting director of CNA Insurance, a commercial property and casualty insurance company.
In addition, if this trend continues, elevating property will become a necessity for many residents or business owners in the region.
A fourth lesson is that evacuation planning has become more difficult, and there may be less time available both for emergency managers and residents to respond to the need to evacuate.
Last year, 10 of the 13 hurricanes that formed underwent rapid intensification. That’s officially defined as an increase in sustained winds of 35 mph or greater in 24 hours or less. Hurricane Delta set a record by intensifying from a tropical depression to a Category 4 hurricane in 36 hours, with wind speeds increasing from 35 mph to 130 mph in 48 hours.
Likewise, the winds in Hurricane Laura last year intensified by 45 mph in 24 hours, while Hurricane Hanna last year and Hurricane Harvey in 2017 both had wind increases of 40 mph in 24 hours.
A good question to ask yourself is: Are you prepared enough to arrange for evacuation with a less than 24-hour notice?
A fifth lesson is do not focus exclusively on the storm track. Last year, Hurricane Laura struck Lake Charles, but it caused major power outages and some damage in Baton Rouge, a little more than 100 miles to the east of the center.
Those of you who remember Hurricane Carla in 1961 know that the storm caused major damage in the Galveston area and brought a tidal surge of more than 9 feet above mean sea level to the island and 10 feet to Texas City and parts of Galveston Bay, despite having come ashore 105 miles southwest of Galveston.
With hurricanes moving more slowly or stalling more frequently, a sixth lesson is that we should be prepared for hurricane and/or flooding conditions that could last several days. This means stocking up with plenty of supplies to cover prolonged periods of hurricane conditions and/or flooding.
Finally, do not assume that the season is over if we already have experienced a storm. Multiple named storms can impact any coastal region in the same year, especially one in which the season is more active than normal.
Last year, Louisiana was stuck by five named storms — three hurricanes and two tropical storms. Lake Charles was battered by Category 2 and Category 4 hurricanes in a six-week time span.
Plan ahead and be safe!