Today is the official start of hurricane season, which is kind of like football season, only with fewer blown calls by the officials. Of course, Mother Nature wasn’t waiting for the human calendar to kick things off this year. Two named storms formed last month and the NOAA forecast for the season is calling for an increase in activity. So that has emergency planners on the east and Gulf coasts feeling a bit nervous. If some seriously large category 4 or 5 storms take aim at our shores in 2020, normal evacuation plans (never bulletproof in the best of times) are going to be even more dangerous with COVID-19 muddying the picture. And if these nightly riots don’t calm down soon, there may not be any emergency vehicles left to help people trying to flee. (NPR)
The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season starts Monday, and federal scientists expect storms to be more frequent and powerful. Two named storms already formed in the Atlantic this spring before the official start of the season. As Florida and other coastal states plan for hurricanes, they are confronting troubling new public safety calculations because of the coronavirus.
There’s now a chance for one disaster to layer upon another. Many lives could be lost: first, from powerful winds, storm surges and flooding, and then through the spread of the coronavirus in cramped public shelters following mass evacuations. Evacuees might pass the virus to friends and relatives who take them in, or get infected themselves in those new surroundings.
“The risks are significant,” says David Abramson, a professor at New York University’s College of Global Public Health, whose research examines the health consequences of hurricanes. “A lot of hurricane events lead to evacuations and displacements” without much time to build in social distancing safeguards, he says.
In years past we have discussed the fact that the annual NOAA storm season predictions and two dollars probably wouldn’t get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. They are frequently off by significant numbers in either direction. And even if you come close to guessing the total number of regular and major storms, what really matters is how many of them are going to make landfall. (The disastrous 2004 storm season was originally predicted by NOAA to be a “moderate” season. We wound up getting hit by 9, with four of those hitting Florida alone for a total cost of $61 billion.)