We’re a little more than a month into the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season and there’s a good chance a tropical cyclone will roam the Gulf of Mexico before the end of the week.
Much is uncertain about this weather system, which will be called Barry if it develops into a tropical storm or hurricane, but it already serves as a tangible reminder about the need to be prepared for serious weather all the time until the season ends in the fall.
This system is odd in that the low pressure area forecasters are tracking formed over land north of the Gulf and is drifting southward toward the warm water in which tropical storms thrive. That’s rare, but apparently not unprecedented, forecasters said.
Most tropical weather systems come from the east. Many of them begin thousands of miles away and take many days to get near enough to threaten the Texas Coast. Those forming near the Cape Verde Islands, more than 4,000 miles east of here off the coast of Africa, for example, seem to have a special affinity for this part of Texas, but that’s probably superstition.
While this system that might become Barry is very odd, it’s an example of storms we’ve seen before — those that form relatively near to shore and arrive in a matter of hours, rather than days.
Tropical Storm Allison, for example, formed in the Gulf in early June 2001, and was swamping Houston with rain measurable in feet within a very short time.
It’s worth remembering also that Hurricane Harvey in 2017 had weakened to what the National Hurricane Center calls a remnant after passing over the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Initial forecasts predicted it might strengthen into a tropical storm before making landfall along the Texas Coast. Instead, it blew up into a major hurricane and was ashore in South Texas in a matter of hours. And we all know from experience what Harvey did here even after it had weakened to a tropical storm.
The point is any tropical weather system in the Gulf of Mexico is a threat to be taken seriously. It’s something to watch and to plan for and nothing to be taken lightly and certainly nothing to ignore.
If you haven’t already, you need to decide what you’ll do if local authorities call for an evacuation. Our position always has been that unless you’re among a small cadre of essential people, you should heed the call to evacuate.
You should make yourself familiar with the ZIP code-based evacuation plan, which calls for people living nearest the Gulf to evacuate first, and so on.
You need to consider whether you have the means to evacuate or whether you’ll need help doing that. Most cities in the county offer some sort assistance for people who can’t get themselves out of harm’s way. You can and should register in advance for that assistance by calling 211 on your telephone.
You need to know what you’ll do with pets or other animals in your care.
Don’t plan to leave them behind. Far too many people did that during Hurricane Ike. A lot of animals died alone and terrified because of it.
Those animals that survived created one more problem for emergency responders to deal with.
Some cities will evacuate you and your pets and some will not. Now is the time to determine the case where you live.
If you own property and never have been through a hurricane, you need to learn how to secure it. Do you have the tools and skills to board up the windows or will you need to hire someone for that?
If you rent, you need to know whether your landlord will secure the place or whether that’s up to you.
The point is there’s a lot to consider; a lot to know.
Sometimes, you have days to watch a hurricane move from the Atlantic to the Gulf and days to think about what to do.
You can’t count on that, however. Some pretty nasty storms can form very close to the coast and be on you before you know it.
Other times, you’ll think for days you’re safe and then find out very late you’re not.
Now’s the time to get ready.
• Michael A. Smith