Hurricane Season and COVID-19 Could Be the Perfect Storm
By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
It didn't take long for the 2020 hurricane season to give a hint of possible things to come when Tropical Storm Cristobal flooded parts of Louisiana and the Florida panhandle last weekend.
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Cristobal made landfall at 5 p.m. Sunday along Louisiana's southeast coast. "With winds gusting up to 45 mph by the time it reached the north shore, Cristobal made its presence felt, but didn't pack a punch like St. Tammany residents have taken through the years," the New Orleans Times-Picayune observed on Monday.
Some 750 homes in Louisiana were still without power Monday morning as Cristobal weakened into a tropical depression and moved into Mississippi before tracking north toward Wisconsin on Tuesday.
Cristobal May Have Left the Gulf Coast, but COVID-19 Remains
Cristobal may have left the Gulf Coast, but COVID-19 remains. The Louisiana Department of Health reported 43,050 cases of the highly communicable disease with 2,831 deaths and 582 hospitalizations as of June 8.
Despite the numbers, Governor John Bel Edwards signed an executive order moving Louisiana into the Phase Two reopening. The order allows non-essential businesses, casinos, gyms and shopping malls to re-open with some requirements such as 50 percent maximum occupancy and the wearing of face masks by all customers and staff.
The average Atlantic hurricane season runs from June to November. Each season produces an average of 12 named storms, six of which become hurricanes, including three major ones, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). For the 2020 hurricane season, NOAA's Climate Prediction Center has forecast "a likely range of 13 to 19 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 6 to 10 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 3 to 6 major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher)."
Unlike in previous hurricane seasons, public safety officials this year must worry about dealing with a possible Category 3 or 4 hurricane and COVID-19.
FEMA Hurricane Season Guide Urges State and Local Governments to Rethink Evacuation Orders
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has published its 2020 pandemic guide for hurricane preparedness. The guide urges state and local governments to rethink when they give evacuation orders ahead of hurricanes and where they direct residents to go. FEMA warns that housing large groups of people in shelters such as school gyms or churches could lead to increased transmission of the coronavirus.
Natural disasters won’t wait, noted Carlos Castillo, FEMA's acting deputy administrator for resilience and the author of the guide. "Make sure everyone in your household knows and understands your hurricane plan. Discuss the latest CDC guidance on COVID-19 and how it may affect your hurricane planning. Don’t forget a plan for the office, kids’ daycare, and anywhere you frequent."
Castillo said that the agency wants people to change what they bring with them if they are forced to evacuate from a hurricane. "Be prepared to take cleaning items with you," he advised, "like soap, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes or general household cleaning supplies to disinfect surfaces you may touch regularly."