Not the first, not the last: More hurricanes expected

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Here at the end of August, with three major hurricanes already passed, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association says the 2005 hurricane season has already surpassed what was expected during its May predictions – and that’s just the Atlantic.

“The updated outlook calls for an extremely active season, with an expected seasonal total of 18-21 tropical storms, with 9-11 becoming hurricanes, and 5-7 of these becoming major hurricanes,” states the NOAA Web site,

According to the National Weather Service, the United States has already experienced seven tropical storms, and three major hurricanes – Dennis, Emily and now Katrina. What can residents expect for the rest of the season? The forecast calls for 11-14 tropical storms, 7-9 hurricanes with 3-5 of those becoming major hurricanes.

“These very high levels of activity are comparable to those seen during August-November 2003 and 2004,” the NOAA states. “Given the forecast that the remainder of the season will be very active, it is imperative that residents and government officials in hurricane-vulnerable communities have a hurricane preparedness plan in place.”

Local officials are prepared indeed, from the Mayor and City Council to the local schools.

“We definitely have disaster plans in place,” Demopolis Mayor Cecil Williamson said. “We’ve had those in place since Ivan.”

Williamson said she couldn’t really comment on the remainder of the season and what it means to this area, other than that she and the city would be prepared should another hurricane head this way.

“I can’t control hurricanes, but we will be as prepared as we can be,” she said. And practice makes perfect, right?

“We’ve had more practice than I want,” she said.

More hurricanes could mean more trouble for the schools, however, as the school calendar only has a small amount of weather days built into it.

“We have a couple of days built in, but after that we have to dig into our holiday days or tack it on to the end of the year,” Demopolis City Schools Superintendent Wesley Hill said. “Students have to be in school 175 days a year.”

Hill said this hurricane caught them a bit by surprise and lingered more than they expected.

“This was such a big storm and we didn’t really expect it to stay crazy like it did last night,” Hill said Tuesday. By noon Tuesday power was back on at all schools except part of the middle school. However, computers were still down because the main hub is located at that school.

Though the sun shone bright Tuesday, Hill said he stood by his decision not to open because of what could have happened.

“It could have been a bad school day with lines down and it may not have been safe, so we chose to close one more day,” he said. “We try to be consistent and try to go when we can, but we have to take the children’s safety into consideration.”

As for upcoming hurricanes, Hill said the schools will just have to play it by ear.

The problem with trying to predict what hurricanes will form and where they will go is the day to day weather patterns across the Atlantic, the Gulf and the United States.

“Although the conditions that produce hurricane landfalls are well known, they are very difficult to predict at these extended ranges because they are often related to the daily weather patterns rather than the seasonal climate patterns,” the weather service stated. “It is currently not possible to confidently predict the number or intensity of landfalling hurricanes at these extended ranges, or whether a given locality will be impacted by a hurricane this season.”

That’s why it’s important to stay informed and be prepared.