Thanks to COVID-19, the hurricane season that officially started on Monday, June 1st, will be unlike any other.
“The combination of an ongoing pandemic and what NOAA has forecast to be a busy hurricane season is a cataclysmic scenario,” according to the disaster policy group SmarterSafer Coalition.
Federal forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last month predicted as many as 19 named storms would form, of which as many as 10 will be hurricanes. It’s just one of many forecasts that predict an unusually busy season in 2020.
“This could be a very active season,” said AccuWeather meteorologist Dan Kottlowski. “The more active the season, the more likely we’ll have at least one, two or three major events.”
Astrid Caldas, a climate scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said: “The intersection of the pandemic with hurricane season is unprecedented and unfortunate, as it will play out as FEMA’s resources and staff are stretched thin with the pandemic response and a series of disasters since 2017, which will make it harder for the agency to rise to the challenge of simultaneously occurring disasters.”
Even without the pandemic, this “would be a challenging hurricane season,” said Rachel Cleetus, also of the Union of Concerned Scientists, due to the predicted number of storms. “As a nation, we’re not prepared, and this is putting people’s lives at risk.”
The nation’s ability to keep people safe is going to be severely tested, she added, and in large part depends on how well FEMA and state and local authorities work together under these unprecedented circumstances.
“Other disasters like ongoing Midwest flooding and the upcoming wildfire season also put pressure on the agency’s resources,” Cleetus said.
FEMA said it’s ready for hurricane season: “While FEMA continues to lead federal operations during the whole-of-America COVID-19 response, we continue to take deliberate and proactive steps to respond to and recover from future disasters, such as hurricanes, while responding to COVID-19. FEMA has already responded to severe weather during this pandemic, with devastating tornadoes in the southeast, while also preparing for the start of the 2020 hurricane season.”
Nevertheless, the overwhelming fight against COVID-19, paired with already scarce resources, will dramatically impact the ability of federal, state, and local governments to support hurricane disaster relief.
And the threat of contracting COVID-19 will be a deterrent for some people considering to go to a shelter to ride out a hurricane.
“If we have to do mass congregate sheltering, what are the protocols we’re going to have in place?,” Jared Moskowitz, the director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said in a recent news conference, AccuWeather reported. “Are we going to have COVID-only shelters? How are we going to do evacuations?”
Another dynamic may also come into play this year when tropical systems threaten the U.S.: disaster fatigue.
Months of stress and worrying over the coronavirus pandemic and its implications on society, the economy and everyday living has taken its toll on many Americans, AccuWeather reported.
“People are tired of seeing the numbers. They’re tired of seeing the news media. They’re just tired…” said Bill Wheeler, deputy emergency management coordinator in Harris County, Texas.
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