This is National Hurricane Preparedness Week, and, if atmospheric scientists are right, there's even more reason to prepare this year than last.
Two forecasts issued so far predict either a rather average year for Atlantic hurricanes or a very active one. Either way, experts say, hurricane-prone areas such as Hampton Roads should start getting ready now.
The Atlantic hurricane season runs June 1 through November.
"It takes only one landfall near you to make this an active season," researcher Phil Klotzbach cautioned last month when he released a forecast from the Tropical Meteorological Project at Colorado State University.
CSU has been making hurricane season predictions for 33 years now, and says this year the Atlantic stands a good chance of churning up 12 named storms — five of which could explode into hurricanes, including two major ones with wind speeds topping 111 mph.
But experts at North Carolina State University are predicting 15-18 tropical storms and 8-11 hurricanes, with three to five of them major.
An average season would see 11 storms whipping up six hurricanes, with two or three of them major ones.
At the National Weather Service in Wakefield, though, meteorologist Bill Sammler cautioned against relying too much on forecasts.
"There is no correlation between those numbers and impact to the U.S.," Sammler said in a phone interview Monday.
Instead, he said, residents should approach every hurricane season as if they expect a "significant impact."
"If you take that approach — that every year is the same, from the perspective of how you are going to prepare — then you're in much better shape than using the seasonal forecast as your guide as to whether you should make preparations or not," Sammler said.
One major factor in both forecasts is the El Niño that's petering out in the Pacific. An El Niño is a period of warming Pacific waters that disrupts normal weather patterns around the globe — including issuing strong upper-level winds that suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic.
The national Climate Prediction Center could be issuing its own annual hurricane forecast by the end of the week, said Sammler. The center is under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
For more on National Hurricane Preparedness Week, go to nws.noaa.gov/com/weatherreadynation.
Meanwhile, Virginia's Hurricane Preparedness Week begins Sunday, said Dawn Eisschen, spokeswoman at the Virginia Department of Emergency Preparedness.
It typically runs right before Memorial Day weekend, said Eisschen, "which is when we get the most mileage out of people listening to hurricane preparedness messages."
The state used to hold a sales tax holiday for the purchase of emergency supplies during Memorial Day weekend, she said, but last year the governor combined it with similar sales tax breaks for school supplies and energy-efficient products and rescheduled all three to the first weekend in August.
Dietrich can be reached by phone at 757-247-7892.