SEBRING — Arthur, Bertha, Cristobal, Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gonzalo, Hanna... These are not the baby names popular with new parents this year, but the monikers this year’s Atlantic storms will bear, although forecasters are predicting we may not go past Marco, the 13th named storm for 2014. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has forecast a near-normal or below-normal 2014 Atlantic hurricane season, due to the anticipated development of the El Niņo weather pattern this summer. “El Niņo causes stronger wind shear, which reduces the number and intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes,” NOAA explains. “El Niņo can also strengthen the trade winds and increase the atmospheric stability across the tropical Atlantic, making it more difficult for cloud systems coming off of Africa to intensify into tropical storms.
The six-monthlong Atlantic storm season begins June 1. NOAA is expecting a 70 percent chance of eight to 13 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which three to six could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including one to two major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher). The 2014 forecast comes on the heels of a quiet 2013 storm season. Humberto was the first of only two Atlantic hurricanes in 2013. Florida, in particular, has had a lucky spell. No hurricane has made landfall for the past eight consecutive years. Despite that, NOAA cautions residents to be prepared. “And even though we expect El Niņo to suppress the number of storms this season, it’s important to remember it takes only one land falling storm to cause a disaster,” reminds Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA administrator, in a news release. Forecasters with The Weather Channel also predict a below-average 2014 Atlantic hurricane season. The early outlook, released March 24, calls for 11 named storms, including five hurricanes. Two of which are predicted to be Category 3 or stronger, it adds. El Niņo, of at least moderate strength, is the reason Colorado State University’s Department of Atmospheric Science also is expecting a “quiet forecast.” “In addition, the tropical Atlantic has anomalously cooled over the past few months,” their report states. They are forecasting nine named storms, three hurricanes and one major hurricane. While a recent AAA consumer survey found that three in 10 Floridians do not make advanced preparations with the onset of hurricane season, Michael St. Pierre said he’s ready - hurricane or no hurricane. He has got his batteries stocked up, plenty of canned food and bottled water, although he could do with more water. “I’m prepared,” he declared with a smile. The transplant from Vermont may not have experienced first-hand a Florida hurricane but 2004’s Hurricane Charley, which swept through Punta Gorda, shaped his relocation plans to Florida. St. Pierre and his wife had moved to Punta Gorda in 2005 but did not feel safe after seeing the blue tarps on the roofs and hearing the talk of the destruction the 2004 hurricane season wreaked. They moved back but he ended up taking a job in Sebring. Ronny Browning, on the other hand, knows what a bad storm can do. Three of her sons were in Hurricane Charley’s path when it barreled through Punta Gorda. At that time she was an assistant manager at a Waffle House, which had to be rebuilt after the storm passed. Her home in Venus was spared but her dogs’ kennels were not. Perhaps because of that she is prepared. She has got her batteries, plenty of food and water, and can cook outdoors without electricity if she has to. “I have everything I really need,” she said. One thing she learned from her 2004 experience is how useful it is to have an updated list of employees’ contact numbers and addresses. After the hurricane passed, she was able to get in touch with them all to see if they are safe because Waffle House had a current list. “Residents should stay vigilant and be prepared for a major weather event,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesman for the AAA – The Auto Club Group. “Part of that preparation includes having a storm kit, evacuation plan, and flood insurance. Every home is in a flood zone, whether you live near the coast or not.” AAA also offers these hurricane preparation tips: Secure Your Home – Inspect your home for minor repairs needed to roof, windows, down spouts, etc. Trim trees or bushes that could cause damage to your home in case of high winds. Make a Plan – Develop a Family Emergency Plan to include ways to contact each other, alternative meeting locations, and an out-of-town contact person. Identify a safe room or safest areas in your home. Research your evacuation route. Be sure and include plans for your pets. Take Inventory – Update your Home Inventory quickly by walking through your home with a video camera or smart phone. Keep a record of large purchases including the cost of the item, when purchased and model and serial numbers as available. Stock Emergency Supplies – Plan for a weeks worth of non-perishable food and water. Be sure and have flashlights, extra batteries, battery-powered radio, medications, first aid kit, blankets, toiletries, diapers, etc. You may also want to prepare a portable kit and keep in your car should you evacuate. Protect Your Property – Review your homeowners insurance with your insurance agent to determine if you have adequate protection. Discuss your deductibles. Be aware that flood insurance in not typically covered under your homeowners policy. Flooding to your automobile is available under the Physical Damage coverage.