Above-normal hurricane season predicted for Sussex

Sussex County Emergency Operations Center Director Joe Thomas monitors storm information from the EOC hub at the Delaware Coastal Airport. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

GEORGETOWN — While the COVID-19 pandemic is grabbing headlines worldwide, Sussex County officials are issuing an alert to another potential threat: the Atlantic Hurricane Season.

The six-month-long hurricane season officially gets underway June 1, and Sussex County Emergency Operations Center Director Joe Thomas reminds the public to be ready ahead of the forecast calling for an above-normal storm season.

“I think the last few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic have taught us some very valuable lessons about the importance of being prepared for an emergency situation,” Mr. Thomas said. “Although Sussex County and the nation continue to wage war with this virus, we must also be ready to face another enemy in Mother Nature. We cannot lose sight that the tropical threat is still there, just as it is each season, and we have to plan and be prepared for that as well.”

For the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting an above-normal season, with 13 to 19 named systems possible. Of those, six to 10 could become hurricanes, with three to six possibly reaching Category 3 strength or higher, according to NOAA’s May 21 forecast.

Forecasters expect warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic and the lack of an El Niño weather pattern – the warming of waters in the Pacific Ocean off South America – to shape the 2020 season. The El Niño pattern, when present, causes wind shearing in the Caribbean and Atlantic that often thwarts the development of tropical systems in the Atlantic basin.

However, without a strong El Niño, and water temperatures at or above normal in the Atlantic, conditions in the Atlantic basin can be ripe for tropical development.

The 2019 hurricane season was above average in the Atlantic, with 18 named storms during the season, including six hurricanes, three of which were major and caused billions of dollars in damage – Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas being the most devastating.

Sussex County escaped the 2019 season with little effects from tropical weather, but the lack of storm activity last year is no reason to ignore the potential this season, Mr. Thomas said.

“I know it sounds like a broken record, but every year I remind people that all it takes is one. On top of the current health emergency, this is no time to let our guards down,” he said.

An average Atlantic hurricane season sees 12 named storms, including six hurricanes, with three classified as major. Already, 2020 has its first system with Tropical Storm Arthur, which formed earlier this week.

Preparation is critical to limiting damage and avoiding loss of life, no matter the emergency, be it a health crisis or a natural disaster. Like other coastal communities from the Caribbean to Canada, Sussex County is susceptible to the effects of tropical weather, from flooding to high winds.

One step that residents can take ahead of hurricane season is to create a Safety Profile for their household with the county’s free Smart911.com service to provide information up front to first responders. Profiles can contain as much or as little information as users want, including details about their properties, special medical conditions and family contacts.

To help make the storm season safer for everyone, there are several steps you can take to make your home and family ready for hurricane season:

• If you live in a flood-prone or other vulnerable area, be prepared to evacuate. Plan your evacuation route now. Emergency managers will notify the public, via the media, of what areas should evacuate and when. In the event you evacuate, take a storm kit. Take valuable and/or important papers. Secure your house by locking the windows and doors. Turn off all utilities (gas, water, electric, etc.). Notify a family member or someone close to you outside the evacuation area of your destination;

• Secure all outdoor items. Property owners also will need to secure their boats. Area residents should clear rain spouts and gutters and trim any trees that may pose a problem during high winds;

• In the event of an approaching storm, travel during daylight hours. Do not wait until the last minute to make plans or to purchase gasoline and supplies. When a storm watch is issued, you should monitor the storm on the radio and television. An evacuation could take 24 to 36 hours prior to a storm’s onset.

• If ordered to evacuate and seek shelter elsewhere, follow the instructions of local emergency managers on where to go and when. Authorities will announce shelter locations in advance of their opening, which could include multiple sites to accommodate larger populations amid social distancing guidance necessary in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Make provisions for your pets, as many shelters will not accept animals.

• If not ordered to evacuate and you decide to take shelter in your home, have your disaster kit ready. Keep your important papers with you or store them in the highest, safest place in your home, and in a waterproof container. Even if you seek shelter in place, you need to secure your home by locking the doors and windows. Turn off all utilities (gas, water, electric, etc.). Monitor the storm by portable radio to keep up with the latest information. Stay indoors. Try to stay in an inside room away from doors and windows.

• Use your phone sparingly. Make only essential calls and keep the calls brief. Report emergencies to 911. When reporting emergencies, identify yourself and your location, making sure to speak clearly and calmly. If you have a mobile telephone, make sure it is charged and ready to use at all times. Remember, however, that cell service may be interrupted during and after the storm.

Officials recommended having a family disaster kit, which should include:

• A three-day supply of water. This should include at least one gallon of water per person per day;

• Non-perishable foods and a manual can opener;

• A change of clothes and shoes for each person;

• Prescription medicines;

• A blanket or sleeping bag and pillow for each person;

• Personal hygiene items;

• A flashlight and extra batteries for each person;

• Special needs items, such as formula and diapers for infants, as well as items needed for elderly or disabled family members;

• A portable radio with extra batteries;

• Money. During power outages, ATMs will not work;

• Fuel. Gas pumps are also affected by power outages, so it is a good idea to have fuel in advance.

In the event a hurricane affects the area, expect polluted water, limited communications, no electricity, overflowing or backed-up sewers, undermined foundations, beach erosion and heavy damage to homes and roadways.

Do not re-enter the area until recommended to do so by local authorities. As you re-enter the area, be aware of possible hazards such as downed trees and power lines. Be aware of debris and water on roadways. Upon re-entry, have identification and important legal papers ready to show officials proof of residency. Continue to use your emergency water supply or boil water until notified that the drinking water is safe. Take precautions to prevent fires.

For more information on preparing for hurricane season, including evacuation maps and preparedness brochures, visit Sussex County’s hurricane homepage at www.sussexcountyde.gov/hurricane-information, or the NOAA Weather Ready Nation homepage at www.weather.gov/wrn/.