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Exclusive: AccuWeather's 2020 hurricane season town hall reveals tips for this unique year

AccuWeather logo AccuWeather 5/28/2020 John Roach

The coronavirus pandemicmurder hornets and zombie fires kicked off 2020 with an array of challenges. And that's all before the official start of the Atlantic Basin hurricane season on June 1, which appears similarly daunting.

"This will probably be a more active season than normal," AccuWeather lead hurricane expert Dan Kottlowski said about the company's forecast for the coming season, which has already churned out two-named storms. "Our current indications show there could be as many as 14 to 20 tropical storms, seven to 11 hurricanes and maybe four to six major hurricanes - Category 3 or higher."

The AccuWeather TV Network convened its first-ever television special to address the hurricane season and essentials such as preparation and response during the pandemic, among other hurricane-related issues in "AccuWeatherReady: 2020 Hurricane Season during COVID-19."

The one-hour TV event features expert meteorologists and emergency management officials as well as top government officials and business leaders discussing all manner of challenges this hurricane season will present. The program aired at 9 p.m. Thursday with repeats on May 30 at 11 a.m. and June 1 at 9 p.m., and featured segments will be available on AccuWeather.com after the original broadcast for the remainder of the hurricane season, which starts on June 1 and lasts through Nov. 30.

"We expect the 2020 hurricane season to be different and we recognized early planning was the key to everyone staying safe and prepared," said AccuWeather TV Network Executive Producer Jim Proeller when asked about how the event came to fruition. "We brought together an experienced and knowledgeable panel who would give us diverse insights and be able to speak across many different areas."

Those areas include the impact of a global pandemic, particularly in regard to decisions people will make regarding evacuations, shelters and their own safety.

"With hurricane planning, when you introduce COVID-19 into it, every piece has to be gone through to make sure that you're able to maintain those things that are recommended by our health providers on social distancing and face coverings - but the major message is, we're going to do what we have to do to save lives," said Bill Wheeler, deputy emergency management coordinator for Harris County, Texas.

a group of people standing on top of a sandy beach holding a surfboard: Tropical Weather Florida © Provided by AccuWeather Tropical Weather Florida
Sightseers watch waves crash on shore as Hurricane Dorian made its way off the Florida coast Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, in Ormond Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

The Red Cross already has applied different methods during the pandemic to shelter people, including providing more than 23,000 hotel stays in a recent four-week span because of tornadoes across the country, according to American Red Cross Senior Vice President of Disaster Services Trevor Riggen.

"In hurricane season, we assume that we'll have to open many shelters to keep families safe," Riggen said. "So, we've introduced new protocol, we've adjusted a screening process to make sure we're taking the temperature of clients that come to shelters, checking for symptoms ... We want to make sure they know whether we put them in a hotel or a shelter that they're the safest they can possibly be, even in the face of this pandemic."

COVID-19 fears could affect people's decisions to evacuate as a hurricane nears, according to some town hall participants. "There may be some adjustments in [people's] plans [because of COVID-19 concerns]," said National Hurricane Center (NHC) Director Ken Graham. "But the bottom line is those basic risks of a hurricane still exist. Whether it's a tropical storm - it's not about the category of the storm, it's about the size of the storm and it's about the speed of the storm."

Storm surge can be an underrated element of a hurricane's impact. "It's the leading cause of fatalities in tropical systems," said Graham, who launched a new NHC graphic to show what the maximum storm surge could be at any given location.

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"That's something we've been really focused on here at AccuWeather over the last couple of years: How do we most effectively communicate all of the different type of risks and impacts that a hurricane can have in an area?" said AccuWeather for Business Vice President Jonathan Porter. "AccuWeather's RealImpact Scale for Hurricanes looks at potential impacts beyond the wind, namely coastal storm surge, inland flooding and the total economic impact and loss to communicate the total impact in a particular area."

AccuWeather introduced the Real Impact Scale for Hurricanes in 2019 as a way to provide a more nuanced look at the overall affect a hurricane or tropical storm can have on the places it hits. The scale takes into account the effects of wind speeds, rainfall and storm surge can impose on places along with the overall economic damages a storm is expected to leave in its wake.

The key message from the town hall participants centered on the need for planning. "This year has an added layer of complexity that we just haven't experienced in recent times," said Riggen. "There are more than 20 million people without work, that adds a layer of complexity: ‘Can I afford to evacuate? ... [And because of COVID-19], Every single person in the country has had to use their emergency supplies in some way ... Now is the time to replenish any supplies to make sure your family is kept safe."

A basic hurricane preparation kit includes water, nonperishable food, a first aid kit, a flashlight and batteries. If sheltering pets or infants, keep a supply of baby formula, diapers and pet food in the kit as well. A more extensive list can be found here and would include a battery-powered radio, essential documents and more. Additional items for COVID-19 concerns would include masks, gloves, sheets, soap and washcloths.

"Practice your family plan [in the event of a hurricane]," said Graham. "It's real comfortable to work that plan in 5 to 7 days ... but you're not always going to get that lead time."

And things can change quickly. "If you're looking at information five, six or seven days out, some people think, ‘Oh, I know what's going to happen now,'" said Kottlowski. "Don't assume that what you heard five days ago is going to be the same thing that's going to happen two days from now. Keep up with the weather."

Keep checking back on AccuWeather.com and stay tuned to the AccuWeather Network on DirecTV, Frontier and Verizon Fios

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