Hurricane season officially began June 1, but tropical storms don't pay attention to the calendar. Hurricane Alex formed in January of this year — an extremely rare occurrence — and Tropical Storm Bonnie brought a lot of rain to the Carolinas for Memorial Day weekend. As of press time, the National Weather Service was keeping an eye on a patch of disturbed weather in the Gulf of Mexico.
That's a change from recent years, which have seen a hurricane "drought." Not one hurricane made landfall in the U.S. last year. Since the one-two punch of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (pictured) in 2005, only four have made landfall in Louisiana, none above a Category 2 (Gustav, in 2008).
This year will be much more like "normal," meteorologists say — due in part to the formation of La Nina, the wind pattern more conducive to hurricane formation. (We have had El Nino conditions for the last few years, which inhibits hurricanes.) The National Hurricane Center (NHC) predicts 10 to 16 named storms with four to eight named hurricanes and one to four major hurricanes (Categories 3, 4 or 5). However, as we know all too well, a slow-moving tropical storm or major rain event can be as catastrophic as a fast-moving hurricane — just look at the record flooding in parts of Texas recently.
For natives and newcomers alike, a good place to begin hurricane preparations is the state's Get a Game Plan website (www.getagameplan.org). It helps you prepare an evacuation plan, protect your home and valuables and anticipate medical needs. It offers information on what to do with your pets (hint: take them with you, along with pet carriers and proof of vaccinations). You can sign up for weather and emergency alerts. The City of New Orleans also has comprehensive tips on its website at www.ready.nola.gov, where you can sign up for local emergency alerts and get information about city-assisted evacuation if you need it.
Here are some tips you may not find on websites: keep your car gassed up all summer; download a hurricane app for your smartphone (our partners at WWL-TV have a free one called Weathercaster); get a waterproof box and stow important papers and photos in it (if you have a backup hard drive, consider putting that in there too and buying a second one); stash some cash in case ATMs and credit card machines are down; keep a separate phone charger in your car; if you evacuate with kids, take a tablet or DVD player to keep them occupied; and bring at least a week's supply of medicines. Also remember: If phone lines are down, texting still may be possible (we learned this after Hurricane Katrina); if you stay, know that even a minor storm can knock out power for a week or longer — be prepared.
Most important, if authorities call for an evacuation, be ready to go immediately — and pack plenty of patience. You'll need that more than anything else.