Thomas M. Kostigen, USA TODAY| April 25, 2015
Forecasters say this year’s hurricane season may be among the tamest on record, with predictions indicating activity could be half of the norm.
The U.S. typically experiences about six hurricanes and 12 named storms each year. Tropical storms are named when wind speeds reach 39 miles per hour. Storm systems achieve hurricane status when winds reach 74 mph or greater. The 2015 hurricane season begins May 15 in the Pacific Ocean and June 1 in the Atlantic.
Colorado State University predicts just seven named storms will brew during the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season. Of those, just three will become hurricanes. North Carolina State University predicts four to six named storms will form in the Atlantic, with one to three becoming hurricanes. The National Hurricane Center does not make seasonal hurricane landfall predictions.
The forecasts are no reason to let down your guard. Predictions can be off and even a single, strong hurricane can cause harm and damage. In 1983, one of the least active seasons on record, Hurricane Alicia roared through Texas, killing as many as 20 people and causing billions of dollars in damage.
Hurricanes are categorized by wind strength on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. A Category 1 storm on the scale storm means wind speeds range from 74 mph to 95 mph. A Category 2 storm brings winds of 96 mph to 110 mph. A Category 3 storm equates to winds of 111 mph to 130 mph. A Category 4 storm has winds of 131 mph to 155 mph. And a Category 5 storm is the highest on the scale, with winds greater than 155 mph.
Although all hurricanes are extreme storms, Category 3, 4 and 5 strength storms are considered major hurricanes. Both Colorado State and North Carolina State forecasters are expecting only one major hurricane for the U.S. this season.
An El Niño — a periodic warming of tropical Pacific Ocean water — is in effect this year. That typically means a quieter Atlantic hurricane season. As Pacific water temperatures rise to favor extreme weather there, Atlantic conditions become more mild. Already, sea surface temperatures in the eastern Atlantic — where many hurricanes are born — are cooler than normal. Hurricanes feed on warm surface waters.
To play it safe, prepare for hurricane season as you might any year, regardless of the forecast. That means you should:
• Gather an adequate supply of bottled water — one gallon per day per person — and store it in a safe place. Water may not be available for days after a hurricane hits.
• Determine your vulnerability to a hurricane and how prone you may be to storm surge, which can flood miles inland.
• Plan on how to best secure your windows and doors, as well as ensuring your roof is fastened properly to its frame.
• Determine evacuation routes.
• Keep a power generator conveniently stored in case of outages.
• If you live in a high-rise building, identify a safe place below the 10th floor to evacuate to.
• Reinforce basements and consider building a safe room for shelter.
• Be aware of nearby bodies of water that could be affected by storm surge.
• Trim trees and shrubs around your home.
• Keep gutters and drains clear of debris.
• Create a plan to store outdoor furniture, grills and garbage cans.
• If you own a boat, have a plan to make it secure.