For those of us who live on the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, the season of trepidation is upon us. The 2012 Hurricane Season is just around the corner. Already the National Hurricane Center is tracking two pre-season storms in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans today. The stronger of the two is located in the Pacific about 550 miles (885 kilometers) south-southwest of Acapulco, Mexico and has a 50 percent chance of becoming a tropical depression in the next day or two, according to a bulletin from the center in Miami.
The other storm that has caught the eye of forecasters is 460 miles west-southwest of the Azores in the Atlantic, a bulletin said. That system has a 20 percent chance of becoming a sub-tropical storm in the next two days. The systems have developed prior to the official start of both the eastern Pacific and Atlantic hurricane seasons. The eastern Pacific season starts on May 15 and the Atlantic begins on June 1. Forecasting teams are calling for the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season to be slower than normal, although not by much.
AccuWeather.com predicts 12 named storms, including five hurricanes, two with sustained winds greater than 110 mph. Weather Services International, or WSI, a part of the Weather Channel, projects 11 named storms, including six hurricanes, two of those intense. Both forecasts would translate to a slightly slower than normal season: On average, there are 12 named storms, including six hurricanes, three of them major. In early April, Phil Klotzbach and William Gray of Colorado State University predicted 10 named storms, including four hurricanes, two of those major. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will release its seasonal outlook May 24.
Climatologists expect Atlantic sea surface temperatures to be cooler than over the last several years. They also say El Niño, the atmospheric pattern that suppresses storm formation, might emerge over the summer. “There is still uncertainty regarding the development of El Niño,” said Todd Crawford, WSI chief meteorologist. “If the chances of El Niño development increase, our forecast numbers will likely go down even further in future updates.” If the predictions are on target, 2012 would be considerably slower than the previous two years. 2010 and 2011 saw 19 named storms each, tying them with 1995 and 1887 as the third-busiest seasons on record. While not specifying where storms might hit this year, Paul Pastelok, AccuWeather’s lead long-range forecaster, said atmospheric conditions indicated that storms might rise up in the western Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. And he said “another big storm is possible for the East Coast” in the wake of Irene, which struck the U.S. last August. Hurricane season starts June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.
I lived on the Florida coast several years ago and have made the upper Texas coast home for nearly a decade. I defer to the experts at Accuweather and KTRK-TV when it come to hurricanes, however, I can tell you that going through one is not fun. When Category 5 Rita, the fourth most intense hurricane in recorded history, threatened Houston in 2005, we witnessed the largest peacetime evacuation in American history. Houstonians, en mass, went north. Rita turned at the last minute sparing the Bayou City but the message was clear. You just don’t want t dance with a Cat 5.
In 2008, I stayed with some friends during Hurricane Ike. Nowhere near the intensity of Rita, Ike made direct landfall at Galveston before downing power lines, destroying structures and causing havoc over Houston. What I took my Ike is this. Being without power for two weeks sucks…beyond belief. No matter how prepared you think you are, you are still not ready for every nuance. KTRK-TV is reporting today that at a news conference Monday at Houston Transtar headquarters, emergency management leaders unveiled a total of 15 digital billboards in four counties with the purpose of telling people what to do in an emergency, and they can be updated in real time.
It’s called the Gulf Coast Emergency Communications Network. During a major emergency like a hurricane, having a way to reach the public is critical to local government. It’s a lesson learned during Hurricane Ike when 4.5 million people lost power after the storm came ashore at 2:10am in September 2008. In a scenario like that one, residents driving around town before and after the storm would now see digital signs like these run by Clear Channel, giving them up-to-date information about the storm, access to their homes, and other vital information. That information will come from the offices of emergency management in Harris, Galveston, Fort Bend and Brazoria counties. The digital billboards operate via satellite, and within minutes of contacting Clear Channel, county leaders can tell their residents exactly what they need to know.
“If the message needs to go out to the public based on the type of event we’re facing, a hurricane in the Gulf, and we need to prepare this message to the public, I would then authorize that through the system based on the code that we have so that Clear Channel understands it’s an accurate message from the local emergency management, so that would be posted to the boards within our jurisdiction,” said Mark Sloan, Harris Co. Emergency Management Coordinator. Eleven of the billboards are up already with four more being added this month just in time for hurricane season. This is all done free of charge by Clear Channel which runs advertising on the billboards when they’re not being used for emergency announcements. Emergency leaders estimate they can reach 260,000 people using these signs.
Accuweather, the National Hurricane Center and KTRK-TV contributed to this report.