Today is the first day of the 2016 hurricane season, and forecasters are predicting this year will be busier than the past few.
This year’s forecast says there’s a 70 percent chance of a near-normal Atlantic season. That’s 10 to 16 named storms, 4 to 8 of which could become hurricanes. But even near-normal is more than what the Gulf Coast has experienced recently.
"It’s been a while since we’ve had a storm. All the indicators look like those things that kept us protected for a while are going to be no longer this season," says Ken Graham, the meteorologist in charge for the National Weather Service in Slidell. "No matter what the forecast is for the season, whether it’s a busy season or not a busy season, it just takes one. It just takes one storm to impact us. If we get hit, then it’s a busy season."
Weather and emergency officials are urging Gulf Coast residents to make their plans and preparations in advance. Mississippi Emergency Management Agency director Lee Smithson says he hopes residents will decide now what they'll do in case of a storm.
"Regardless of whether they go to a shelter or evacuate further north, they have to have a plan," he says. "They have to have cash in their pocket because the power might be out, ATMs won't be working. They have to have gas in their cars. They have to have water - one gallon per person, per day. Non-perishable food. It's just absolutely imperative that when the sky is blue and the winds not blowing, that people know that they have to be prepared."
MEMA, like other state agencies, is facing a tighter budget, but Smithson says Smithson says budget cuts to his state agency won’t affect it's immediate response to a storm.
"What our budgets cuts will amount to is our ability to conduct damage assessmsents in the aftermath of the storm. But the real life safety issues are my No. 1 priority," he says. "So we will make sure that the search and rescue elements that are managed by the Department of Public Safety are ready, and that my people are ready to go in and start doing a good, coordinated effort on search and rescue and all the life safety things you have to do in the immediate response."
The state will open a new medical needs emergency shelter in Wiggins today. It’s one of around 72 shelters statewide now available during disasters.