June 1, Nov. 1, they are not truly that different for the team at Gulf County Emergency Management.
So despite the arrival of hurricane season today, Emergency Director Marshall Nelson and his team are doing what they do throughout the year; prepare.
“It doesn’t matter one bit,” Nelson said of the start of hurricane season. “It makes no difference in your preparation because you have to be prepared for any kind of disaster.”
Sure, the period from Jan. 1 through June 1, the six months prior to the season’s start, are important.
To ensure key contacts are up to date, to ensure requisite operational contracts and agreements are also current in place.
The EOC has hosted a training exercise with local stakeholders, including county agencies, the hospital and health department.
This week, Nelson was meeting with new nursing home administrator to review action plans to ensure the facility understands its response protocol, and is following that up with a meeting later this week with the new manager at Presnell’s Marina.
All in order to ensure, as much as possible, the county is prepared.
“That’s what we do all year long that a lot of people don’t realize,” Nelson said.
But don’t ask him about the annual hurricane season forecasts issued this time of year.
During a press conference last week, officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released the agency’s yearly hurricane season outlook.
While the organization tries to predict how many storms will occur in a season, it does not predict how many storms will make landfall.
For the 2017, NOAA predicts a 45 percent chance of an above normal season, with a 35 percent chance of a near normal season, and a 20 percent chance of a below normal season.
NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, who completes the outlook, predicts that there will be a 70 percent chance of 11 to 17 named storms, of which four to nine having the possibility of becoming hurricanes including the possibility of two to four major hurricanes.
Nelson said the typical thumb for an average season is 11 named storms, seven becoming hurricanes and three becoming major storms.
So, in that sense, the season is predicted to be a bit above average in activity.
“That is just a forecast, it is an educated guess,” Nelson said.
According to Gerry Bell, the lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with the Climate Prediction Center, the prediction reflects a weak or non-existent El Nino and a weak vertical wind shear, elements that could suppress hurricane activity.
El Nino, bringing winds from South America, can provide, depending on strength something of a hurdle for hurricanes evolving out of East Africa, Nelson said.
When those hurricanes hit the strong fronts and winds blowing from the south, the storms tend to be steered into the open Atlantic.
Also impacting the season are high sea surface temperatures which hurricanes feed off of, according to NOAA.
In a press release, NOAA made it clear that disasters caused by tropical storms can happen even in a quiet overall hurricane season.
"As a Florida resident, I am particularly proud of the important work NOAA does in weather forecasting and hurricane prediction," said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. "These forecasts are important for both public safety and business planning, and are a crucial function of the federal government."
As for Nelson, don’t even bother bringing up the start of the season or the NOAA forecast.
He hasn’t really paid much attention in years.
“The forecasts don’t mean a thing to us,” Nelson said. “I don’t even talk about it.
“I tell people, you have to be just as prepared for one as you do for 20. It’s only an active hurricane season if you get hit. They predict any number but it doesn’t matter if you get it.”