Meteorologists at Colorado State University are forecasting an "approximately average" Atlantic Hurricane Season for 2016.
The official forecast, of Philip Klotzback and reknown forecaster William Gray, who died April 16, calls for 12 named storms, five hurricanes with two of them major events (Category 3 or stronger). The nation's 30-year average activity is 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three majors. Hurricane Alex, which formed in January, is not being counted in the 2016 forecast.
The probability of at least one storm making landfall on the U.S. coastline is 50 percent, while making landfall on the east coast, including the Florida peninsula, is 30 percent.
That forecast differs slightly with one released earlier by AccuWeather, a private weather forecasting service predicting a slightly busier than normal season of 14 named storms, eight hurricanes, four majors with three making U.S. landfall.
In 2015, the Atlantic Hurricane Season saw 11 named storms with four hurricanes, two of those major. The most intense storm was Hurricane Joaquin in October which was the first Category 4 storm to impact the Bahamas since 1866.
The Atlantic hurricane season covers the North Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. Season starts June 1 and runs through Nov. 30 each year.
Atlantic storm names for 2016
"We prepare the same every year regardless of whether it's an average or an active prediction," said Lee County Emergency Management public safety director Rob Farmer. "One storm is all it takes. We put more faith in the Colorado State prediction because they have great resources. Our preparations are continuing as it does every year, as though we will have a storm."
Farmer said all of the county's response partners throughout the community are brought together for an orientation process so that they are all aware of what the predictions are, they know where they will be, when to be at the operations center and what their role is.
"Our main message to the community is to not get complacent because we haven't been through a storm in a long time," Farmer said. "Charley doesn't seem so bad now because it has been 10 years, but many people here now were not here 10 years ago. We will issue an evacuation order only when it's appropriate. We don't issue those unnecessarily. When we do, we mean it. Prepare your family, your home, your pets. Start moving. Don't wait till the last minute. You can hide from the wind, but you can't outrun the water (storm surge)."
A large dome of colder than usual surface water in the north Atlantic and a weakening of the El Nino pattern will play key roles in storm development as the season progresses.
AccuWeather predicts that if ocean currents tap into this colder water mass east of Newfoundland and south of Greenland it could affect storm formation. If the colder water moves south into areas where storms typically form and intensify, sea-surface temperatures would decline and inhibit storm activity. If that does not happen, the water will remain warmer than normal resulting in a more active storm season.
El Nino tends to produce upper level winds that inhibit storm formation or tears them apart with wind shear. Some forecasters seem to think El Nino will weaken by early summer and open the door for La Nina moving in from the Pacific Ocean offering less wind shear over the Atlantic and favor storm development.
The most active recent Atlantic hurricane seasons were in 2010 and 2012 when 19 named storms with 12 hurricanes occurred both years, including Hurricane Sandy that devastated New Jersey in 2012.
Lee County EMO officials encourage citizens with iPhones and Android devices to download the LeeEvac app which can be used to find out what evacuation zone you live in and provide links to other important information sources.
"Residents can download our CodeRed app to their phones, too," said Farmer. "That app provides alerts based on their geographical location. Cape Coral has its own phone app called Ping4Alerts, so we encourage people in the Cape to download the city's app."
People living on the barrier islands of Pine Island, Sanibel and Captiva are the first ordered to evacuate in order to have plenty of time to get to safety, said Farmer.
More than 200 colored/lettered tags have been placed on evacuation route and shelter signs throughout the county. These tags emphasize the importance of knowing your storm surge and evacuation zone for when it's your time to leave.
"When there is a possibility of a storm residents should start paying close attention to the media - newspapers, radio, TV - for information," said Farmer. "We also utilize all the social media outlets to distribute information."
Residents needing transportation to and from emergency shelters will be able to use LeeTran buses. Once an evacuation notice is issued, LeeTran will discontinue its regular fares.
All county information can be found on the website (www.leeeoc.com) as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
The National Hurricane Center issues a hurricane watch approximately 48 hours before a region can expect to experience hurricane conditions. A hurricane warning indicates a storm with a strength of sustained winds of at least 74 mph is expected within 36 hours.
Whether there is an evacuation order issued or not, household hurricane preparedness kits should contain necessary items such as batteries, flashlights, radios, medical supplies, fresh water (one gallon per person, per day) and food to last several days in the event of a power outage. It doesn't take a named storm to knock out power for an extended period.
For residents new to Southwest Florida, it is recommended they attend one or more of the many hurricane seminars held in May, June and July throughout the area. Seminars help them become more familiar with storms, warnings, tracking and weather radar, storm surges, tornadoes associated with storms, shelter locations (handicapped, special needs and pet friendly ones), and evacuation routes. Watch media outlets for dates and times of these seminars at area libraries, schools and other meeting facilities.
Seminars are conducted by meteorologists, police, fire and emergency management personnel. If an evacuation is ordered, it is imperative to have a family plan to stay with friends or relatives, book a hotel room out of the path of a storm, or in designated public shelters as a last resort.
Lee County residents can apply online to reserve space in the special needs shelters. They also can apply by phone by calling EOC at (239) 533-0622. A completed application can be mailed, faxed (239-477-3636) or emailed to email@example.com.
Those with special needs should be accompanied by a companion or caregiver as shelters have limited staff. Food and water is provided at the shelter, but officials recommend everyone bring extra drinks and snacks. Each person with special dietary restrictions is responsible for bringing their own food. Also bring along personal hygiene items for up to seven days, medications, blankets, books, cards or games. A cot is provided for the person registered, but caregivers should bring something to sleep on.
"People with special needs must register now. Don't wait until the day of a storm," said Farmer. "Registration stops shortly after an event is identified."
Service animals are allowed in all shelters, but pets are only allowed at the pet friendly shelter at South Fort Myers High School. Not all shelters are opened for each storm, so pay attention to news reports to find out which ones will open.
More detailed hurricane and shelter lists are available on the Emergency Management website at www.leeeoc.com, or call (239) 533-3622.