The Atlantic hurricane season officially began June 1, even though the first named storm of the season (Tropical Storm Arlene) formed April 19, one of only two named storms to form in April since at least the 1960s. Forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center have forecast a second consecutive above-normal hurricane season for the Atlantic, with 11 to 17 named storms, five to nine of which could become hurricanes and two to four Category 3, 4 or 5 hurricanes. But as we in Louisiana know, it only takes one.
Now is the time to review hurricane preparations and make sure friends, relatives and neighbors have a plan as well. The basics for "hunkering down" in a non-evacuation situation include bottled water (at least a gallon per person per day), ready-to-eat food, flashlights, a battery-operated radio (and extra batteries), baby supplies, pet supplies, wet wipes, a stash of cash, cellphone chargers (a portable power source for them is a good idea) and at least a week's worth of necessary medication. A rule of thumb throughout hurricane season is not to let your gas tank go below half-full.
If authorities advise or order an evacuation, you'll want all those things with you, plus copies of important paperwork (including insurance policies, medical records and family photos) in a waterproof container. If you have pets, that paperwork should include your pets' proof of vaccinations. Most important, you should know where you're going now and be prepared for hours on the highway.
For those with special medical needs or who require assistance, Evacuteer (www.evacuteer.org) is the place to start. The city has designated 17 official "evacuspots" around town, four of which will cater to those with special needs. (Note that evacuees may bring only one carry-on bag and personal item apiece.) It's estimated that 40,000 New Orleanians may need Evacuteer services, and it's recommended you register ahead of time to speed the process. Even if you don't need city help, check with neighbors and friends who may need help getting out of town.
We'll say it again: It only takes one storm to create havoc, so don't be lulled by minor hurricanes or even tropical storms. Last year's devastating Hurricane Matthew was a Category 5 out at sea that made landfall as a Category 1, but it still killed dozens of people in the U.S. and hundreds in Haiti and Cuba. Sandy was a former hurricane that had become extratropical by the time it hit New York and New Jersey in 2012, but it killed 157 Americans and became the second-costliest storm in American history (after Hurricane Katrina). A slow-moving tropical storm can cause more damage than a fast-moving minor hurricane — it all depends on who's in the unlucky path.
If you're new to living in hurricane country, pay attention to official warnings and be ready to go if ordered. For more information and tips, visit the state's Get a Game Plan website (www.getagameplan.org) and the city's NOLA Ready site (www.nola.gov/ready). The Atlantic hurricane season ends Nov. 30.