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NOAA officials say below-normal hurricane season expected

Even though the predictions are low, officials say don’t get caught up in the number of tropical storms predicted for the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season.

It only takes one.

Experts with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Wednesday that a below-normal hurricane season is expected, but that doesn’t mean that coastal residents like those living along the Grand Strand should put their guard down.

Officials also released a new system that will notify coastal residents of a watch or warning for storm surge hazards.

“A below-normal season doesn’t mean we’re off the hook. As we’ve seen before, below-normal seasons can still produce catastrophic impacts to communities,” said Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA administrator.

She referred to the 1992 Atlantic hurricane season when there were seven named storms, but the first one was Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 storm that devastated much of South Florida.

The Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1 and ends Nov. 30.

The NOAA forecast was on par with a forecast issued in April by Coastal Carolina University officials through their Hurricane Genesis and Outlook Project.

NOAA forecasters said there is a 70 percent chance that six to 11 named storms with winds of at least 39 mph would form and three to six of those would become hurricanes with winds of 74 mph or higher. They said no more than two major hurricanes with winds of 111 mph or more would form.

CCU officials predicted seven to 10 named storms, three to six hurricanes and one or two major hurricanes.

“The main factor expected to suppress the hurricane season this year is El Niño, which is already affecting wind and pressure patterns, and is forecast to last through the hurricane season,” said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

An El Nino is when the ocean warms in the Pacific, which alters tropical weather patterns, forecasters said.

“El Niño may also intensify as the season progresses, and is expected to have its greatest influence during the peak months of the season,” Bell said. “We also expect sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic to be close to normal, whereas warmer waters would have supported storm development.”

Local officials could not be reached Wednesday for comment about the forecast.

Tropical Storm Ana was the first named storm of the season on May 8, but officials say the storm is not an indication of a busier season.

The storm drenched the Grand Strand with 5.14 inches of rain when it made landfall in the North Myrtle Beach area. Some beach erosion was reported especially in the Cherry Grove area, but no serious damage or injuries occurred.

“It only takes one hurricane or tropical storm making landfall in your community to significantly disrupt your life,” FEMA Deputy Administrator Joseph Nimmich said after the outlook was issued.

NOAA also plans to update the season outlook in early August, which is before the peak of the season typically in September.

Also on Wednesday, hurricane experts announced they will issue a new prototype storm surge graphic to highlight areas that could be inundated by storm surge during a tropical storm.

“The new graphic will introduce the concept of a watch or warning specific to the storm surge hazard,” NOAA officials said in a release. “Storm surge is often the greatest threat to life and property from a tropical cyclone, and it can occur at different times and at different locations from a storm’s hazardous winds.”

“Everyone should take action now to prepare themselves and their families for hurricanes and powerful storms,” Nimmich said. “Develop a family communications plan, build an emergency supply kit for your home, and take time to learn evacuation routes for your area. Knowing what to do ahead of time can literally save your life and help you bounce back stronger and faster should disaster strike in your area.”

As the start of hurricane season approaches, Gov. Nikki Haley plans to join local officials on Friday at the M.L. Brown, Jr. Public Safety Building in Conway at 10:15 a.m. for a media briefing following a hurricane preparedness meeting. She also plans to meet with officials in North Charleston and Beaufort later in that afternoon.

Contact TONYA ROOT at 444-1723 or on Twitter @tonyaroot.

Get ready for hurricane season

A basic emergency supply kit includes:

▪ Horry County Hurricane Guide

▪ Water: 1 gallon of water per person per day for three days

▪ Non-perishable food for three days per person

▪ Manual can opener

▪ NOAA weather radio

▪ Flashlight and extra batteries

▪ First-aid kit

▪ Personal hygiene items

▪ Work gloves

▪ Rain gear and towels

▪ Sturdy shoes

▪ Blankets/sleeping bags

▪  Pillow

▪ Change of clothing for each person in your family

▪  Local map

▪ Plastic plates and utensils

▪  Books, games and playing cards

▪ Tools such as wrenches and hammers

▪ Baby care items, as applicable

▪ Pet care items, as applicable

▪ Cellphone charger

▪ Prescription medication

▪ Copies of important documents such as family medical records, Social Security cards, birth certificates, insurance papers, will, deed, household inventory documents, etc.)

You can store all these items in a plastic bin and rotate food items and update changes to your documents such as household inventory items once a year.

Source: Vickie Burkett, recovery/special needs manager for Horry County Emergency Management

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