With uncertain hurricane forecast, feds urge residents to get prepared

President Obama and NOAA this week issued guidance on preparing for this year's storm season, which could bring more storms than recent years.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
President Obama (c.) speaks to members of the media during his visit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to receive a hurricane preparedness briefing. From left are, Kathy Sullivan, administrator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and Lisa Monaco, assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.

With the start of summer around the corner, federal officials are advising people potentially in the path of tropical storms to be prepared.

This year's hurricane season, which officially begins Wednesday, looks to be "near normal," according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. However, an uncertain forecast leaves the door open for a milder or more severe spate of storms than usual, prompting President Obama to urge residents to shake any "complacency."

"This is a more challenging hurricane season outlook than most because it's difficult to determine whether there will be reinforcing or competing climate influences on tropical storm development," said NOAA Climate Prediction Center lead seasonal hurricane forecaster Gerry Bell in an agency release. "However, a near-normal prediction for this season suggests we could see more hurricane activity than we've seen in the last three years, which were below normal."

The difficulty in predicting the season was evidenced by the early arrival of hurricane Alex in January, several months ahead of the typical arrival of such storms and the first January hurricane since 1938, as well as tropical storm Bonnie this past week. NOAA advised that there is a 70 percent chance of 10 to 16 named storms occurring this season, one to four of which could develop into major hurricanes with wind speeds above 111 miles per hour.

NOAA also predicts that the central Pacific has a 40 percent likelihood of a near- or above-normal hurricane season, while the eastern Pacific has a 40 percent chance of a near-normal season with equal prospects for a below- or above-normal season. Three to six major hurricanes are expected there.

The potential arrival of La Niña in late summer and early fall could also affect hurricane season, although NOAA is unsure what its effects this year may be.

In remarks made Tuesday morning, Mr. Obama applauded the progress made by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) since his arrival in office, after its widely maligned response to hurricane Katrina in 2005, but still cautioned Americans to remain updated and safe during the imminent storm season.

"[Y]ou cannot judge the dangerousness of a hurricane based on the fact that in the past it dissipated or it missed you," Obama said. If your local authorities say that you need to start evacuating, you need to start evacuating and get it done. Because, oftentimes, despite the enormous progress that we've made technologically and in terms of forecasts ... evacuations take time and people have to respond."

Obama encouraged people to check their preparedness against recommendations listed on the Department of Homeland Security's Ready.gov hurricane page, which advises residents to have an evacuation plan and disaster kit in place before a storm hits, as well as knowing how to handle warnings of an oncoming storm.

"It just takes one big disaster for us to really see some severe impacts," Obama said. "What we're always worried about are the things we don't know, things we can't anticipate, things that we haven't seen before. And that is why it's so important to make sure that every American, every family participate actively in getting prepared."

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