FERNANDINA BEACH WEATHER

FEMA facing disaster overload and hurricane season hasn’t started yet

The Center Square
By John Haughey
May 25, 2021

In this Oct. 11, 2018 file photo, a boat sits amidst debris in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla.Gerald Herbert / AP file photo

 

(The Center Square) – The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is forecasting its seventh-consecutive “above average” hurricane season with up to 20 named storms battering the Atlantic between June 1 and Nov. 1.

Florida has been fortunate without a hurricane crashing ashore since Hurricane Michael in October 2018, dodging all of last year’s 30 named storms that made 2020 the most active Atlantic hurricane season on record.

This year’s forecast, while still “above average,” calls for a milder mean season than those of recent vintage in the Atlantic.

“Although NOAA scientists don’t expect this season to be as busy as last year, it only takes one storm to devastate a community,” Acting NOAA Administrator Ben Friedman said Thursday when the agency announced its forecast.

NOAA’s outlook calls for a 60% chance of an above-average season with 13 to 20 named storms. The average for a season is 14 named storms.

Six-to-10 of those named storms will develop into hurricanes with winds of 74 mph or higher, NOAA estimates, with three-to-five spawning into major hurricanes with winds topping 111 mph.

NOAA’s outlook jibes with other forecasts. Colorado State University Department of Atmospheric Science’s April outlook predicts 17 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes, and The Weather Company, which operates the Weather Channel, predicts 19 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes.

All the forecasts are based the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (SNSO) which surfaces in warmer waters in the Pacific Ocean and can temper hurricane activity. La Niña is the opposite. An “ENSO neutral” forecast means neither factor is at play.

According to NOAA, the Atlantic is experiencing “ENSO neutral conditions,” which could change as the season progresses by hotter sea-surface temperatures, slower trade winds and a more active west African monsoon season.

“La Niña conditions have ended and NOAA forecasters estimate about a 67% chance that neutral conditions will continue through the summer,” the agency said. “The ENSO forecast for the fall is less confident, with odds of a second-year La Niña currently hovering around 50–55%.”

With hurricane season a little more than a week away, it is uncertain if the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has the available manpower to respond.

The agency is responding to 121 major disasters nationwide, including 54 stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, last year’s California wildfires, this spring’s flooding in Kentucky and even from 2018’s Hurricane Michael — FEMA announced last week $36.33 million in Florida grants to reimburse recovery expenses, Including $25 million for the West Florida Electric Cooperative Association for repairs to hurricane-damaged electrical grids.

According to FEMA, only 3,800 of its 13,700 emergency workers are available this week to respond to a new disaster, 29% fewer ready to deploy than June 1, 2020.

Nearly three-fourths of emergency managers are already deployed to disaster zones, the agency says, and three of 53 senior leadership capable of coordinating missions are available to be deployed to a new disaster.

FEMA’s union chief Steve Reaves in an April letter to Congressional lawmakers said the agency needs more resources to augment its staff and newly confirmed FEMA Director Deanne Criswell has identified employee burnout as a major issue in meetings with staff and lawmakers.

“As we prepare for hurricane and wildfire seasons, or whatever nature brings us, I am committed that FEMA employees will have the tools needed to continue our support of ongoing missions while ensuring that our deployed work force has time to rest and train to be ready for what comes next,” Criswell said in a statement.

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