Hurricane Season Begins June 1

This time last year, the very idea of June 1 arriving and bringing with it the onset of the feared hurricane season was a frightening prospect. But since that six-month period turned out to be uneventful, for which we are still giving thanks, we now find ourselves a tad more confident this time around.

The headline in last Wednesday’s paper announced: “Five major hurricanes are forecast.” The federal entity known as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center put out its annual and official forecast, calling for a strong possibility of an active season. This means somewhere between 13 and 17 “named” storms, of which 7 to 10 could become hurricanes. From 3 to 5 of those should become category 3 or higher.

Oddly enough, when they displayed a map of the Gulf region with the likelihood of a hurricane landing in each section, the lucky winner was Terrebonne Parish down Southwest of New Orleans. This area which includes the city of Houma has a 21.2 percent possibility of hosting a hurricane, compared to 10-15 percent for the New Orleans area.

Various weather experts are saying that due to global warming and other factors, it’s a virtual certainty that Gulf storms will disrupt the production of oil and gas. This means we may expect further increases in fuel costs.

Now, I am not complaining that the prognosticators from last year–who predicted a busy season with major hurricanes–were wrong. We’re delighted they were wrong. My simple question is: when were they ever right? I cannot recall a time. In fact, after one blown call when they had everyone in this area scared for no reason, we put on the church sign this little dig at the meterologists: “My son is a weather forecaster. Pray he will find honest work.”

We hope they will be wrong this summer also. No one welcomes a hurricane, but this part of the world from New Orleans to Biloxi cannot afford one. There seems to be reason to believe the rebuilt levees are stronger than before, so if a major storm does hit New Orleans and nothing floods, we might be all right. If however the place floods to any extent, watch for thousands of struggling, discouraged homeowners to give up and move out. That could be a devastating blow to the recovery of our city.

Occasionally the local media will report on evacuation plans our city leaders have in place in the event of a hurricane taking dead aim at New Orleans. We need so many buses, so many shelters, and so on. I keep wondering whether any of that is true. We do not have the sizable elderly and infirmed population we had prior to Katrina. We do not have the vast numbers of the seriously poor, the people without transportation who would require buses and shelters. Obviously, we would require some, but not like before.

One of the fringe benefits from the lack of a major hurricane in the 2006 season is that church teams from around the nation are still flowing into our city to help us rebuild. Had a storm wiped out some city or town last year, we would have been moved to the back burner and become yesterday’s news. All our facilities seem to be maxed out for the summer, as church teams come to build and rebuild.

The television channels run periodic reminders of all the supplies one will need in the event of a hurricane. I read the lists of gallons of water, batteries, flashlights, and canned foods, and wonder if they are suggesting any of us will hang around and ride out a hurricane. Those hardy–and foolhardy–souls who get their kicks riding out these storms learned an important lesson in August of 2005. I don’t look for many to stay next time.

The weekly neighborhood edition of our paper asks a question and invites readers to call in with their vote. A few days ago, the question was: “Hurricane season starts on June 1. Do you feel local officials are prepared?” 16 callers said ‘yes’ and 193 gave an emphatic ‘no’.

Stay tuned.