U.S. officials are predicting an “enhanced” Atlantic hurricane season that may create new challenges for Americans already struggling with the coronavirus pandemic.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials briefed President Donald Trump on Thursday, outlining preparations for the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.
The season, which officially begins Monday, has already seen two named tropical storms, Arthur and Bertha.
“The big concern this year is the Atlantic Ocean. We’re expecting an above-average year,” said Neil Jacobs, acting director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “This is above average; this does not necessarily mean they’ll make landfall.”
“So you think we could have a slightly enhanced hurricane season. That’s just what we want,” Trump said. “Let’s see. Hopefully, that won’t be the case, but we’ll see.”
The president and FEMA officials were quick to say that they are prepared for the abnormally active season but did acknowledge the difficulties presented by COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
“There will be unique challenges in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic,” Vice President Mike Pence said. “When people are displaced by tropical storms or hurricanes, they often know and are used to congregating at a local school or a local gymnasium. There’ll be different challenges now.”
FEMA released the COVID-19 Pandemic Operational Guidance for the 2020 season to help emergency managers at every level devise new strategies to evacuate, shelter and care for people, while protecting against the spread of the coronavirus, administrator Peter Gaynor said.
“We’re in a really great place when it comes to funding, personnel and supplies,” Gaynor added. FEMA was recently allocated $40 billion as part of recent coronavirus emergency legislation, bringing the agency’s disaster relief fund total to $80 billion.
A typical Atlantic hurricane season, which officially starts June 1 and ends November 30, produces 12 named storms, six of which become hurricanes, with three on average becoming major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5 storms). This year, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting between 13 and 19 named storms, six to 10 hurricanes, and three to six major hurricanes.
There is a 60 percent chance of an above-normal season. The high probability of a season with above-average activity is because of the combination of several climate factors, including warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures and reduced vertical wind shear. The absence of an El Nino pattern to suppress hurricane activity and weakened tropical Atlantic trade winds is also expected to allow a more active season, NOAA officials said in a statement.
Tropical Storm Arthur formed off the coast of Florida on May 16, becoming the first named storm of 2020, continuing a six-year-long trend that a named storm forms before the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season.