Harvey from space.

Take a deep breath. The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is expected to be more active than usual—right now, the NOAA is predicting a 60-percent chance of an above-normal season, from June 1 to November 30, meaning we could see 13–19 named storms (including a Dolly, which we must protest on behalf of Ms. Parton), six to 10 hurricanes, and three to six major hurricanes. That’s due to current climate factors—including warmer sea surface temps, the La Niña effect, and then some—similar to those that have produced majorly active seasons since 1995.  Again, deep breath.  

Houstonians certainly know how to prepare for a big one—these essential tips for surviving a hurricane in Houston are a good start—but while you’re working out your evacuation plan, getting a disaster kit ready, and stocking up on tequila, here’s a couple things to keep in mind as the season coincides with COVID-19. 

Shelters could present new dangers during a pandemic.

Sheltering could be a new challenge

With COVID-19 in mind, FEMA has issued new hurricane preparedness tips, and they mostly pertain to folks evacuating to community or group shelters. FEMA now recommends taking cleaning items (soap, sanitizer, disinfecting wipes) to disinfect any surfaces there and keep your hands clean; maintain social distance (six feet); and avoid other families.  Anyone older than 2 years old should also wear a mask.

It remains to be seen how large evacuation shelters—such as the George R. Brown Convention Center, which temporarily housed some 10,000 Harvey evacuees—will be able to function if these grim forecasts end up being accurate, given the dangers of crowds during a pandemic. And you may need to be extra mindful of your pet this year, because while some shelters changed their requirements to allow people to bring their furry (and other non-human) family members, we could see a situation where there’s no room to house them at a local shelter if they're having to give people more space due to social distancing requirements. 

You can also download the FEMA app to have with you for a bit of guidance as we weather (so to speak) the upcoming season together.

Disaster relief could be sorely lacking

As the New York Times has reported, the nation could see the backbone of disaster response, millions of volunteers, slashed in half this year because so many of them are in an older demographic at a higher risk for the coronavirus. Two-thirds of the Salvation Army’s volunteers, for instance, are over 65. That means fewer people ready, trained, and available to assist when/if things get tough, and, on top of that, FEMA is already occupied with COVID-19 relief.

Thankfully, we again have experience on our side—the heroic efforts we witnessed during Harvey showed the world just how Houston Strong we are. So let’s all do our part to prepare and have a little more patience this season, because 2020 is already proving to be way more stressful than floating islands of red ants.

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