Hurricane season is but a few days away, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Wednesday predicted two or fewer major hurricanes will develop during the 2015 season. Even so, officials urged coastal residents to stay prepared.
“This is a reminder to us all that we are on the doorstep of the Atlantic season and we need to be ready,” NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan said.
The annual forecast announcement was held Wednesday in New Orleans as the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches.
NOAA’s full forecast calls for between six and 11 named tropical storms, with three to six becoming hurricanes and two or fewer developing into major Category 3 or higher hurricanes with winds of at least 111 mph.
The 30-year average is 12 named storms a year, of which six become hurricanes and three major hurricanes.
Despite the expectation of a slightly below-average season, the 2015 season already includes one tropical storm, Ana, which occurred before the official start of the season on June 1.
“Every year, it’s important to start off with the acknowledgement that we’re much, much better off than we were 10 years ago,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said about government preparedness. “We are ready to deal with whatever comes our way.”
Communication among federal, state and local emergency management teams is more coordinated than it’s ever been, he said.
However, government preparedness needs to be coupled with residents who have a plan for what to do in an emergency, Landrieu said.
Although the $14 billion levee system around New Orleans, built following Katrina in 2005, has made the city safer, risks remain, he said.
“Just because we’re better off does not necessarily mean a Category 1 is going to keep us out of harm’s way,” Landrieu said.
Hurricane Isaac in 2012 showed that a slow-moving Category 1 storm can produce worse damage than a fast-moving storm with higher wind speeds.
“If you have a plan, no matter how bad it gets, you’re going to be better off,” Landrieu said.
Plans should include three days’ worth of food, water, medicine and pet supplies because residents should assume they will be on their own for at least that long after a major storm.
Officials say people who can’t leave on their own are encouraged to call 311 now to get on evacuation lists.
“FEMA is always here to tell you that there’s a possibility it could be a disaster,” said Joe Nimmich, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s deputy administrator. “You here in Louisiana know it doesn’t take a hurricane to make a disaster. You all are some of the best at understanding that now is the time to be prepared.”
Preparation also means listening to emergency officials when they say it’s time to leave.
“You have one of the best evacuation plans in the nation, but you need to use it,” Nimmich said.
The expected quieter hurricane season in 2015 can be attributed to atmospheric and ocean conditions, including a stronger El Niño and expected wind shear that keeps hurricanes from forming or growing stronger.
Forecasters noted, however, that quiet hurricane seasons have produced damaging storms. In 1992, there were only six storms, but one of those was Hurricane Andrew, which caused widespread devastation in Florida and Louisiana.
Last hurricane season proved to be uneventful for Louisiana and much of the country. Only eight named storms formed from June 1 through Nov. 30, and only one of those — Hurricane Arthur — made a U.S. landfall by glancing the coast of North Carolina.
The other storms either stayed out at sea or hit Central America and Mexico. There was no storm activity along the entire northern Gulf of Mexico.
The last storm to hit Louisiana was Hurricane Isaac, a Category 1 storm that caused widespread flooding in south Louisiana. That large, slow-moving storm took a long time to move through the state and produced a powerful storm surge.
A stream gauge in Belle Chasse showed that the storm forced the Mississippi River to flow backward for almost 24 hours.
At one point, the river was flowing upstream at 182,000 cubic feet per second, unlike its normal 125,000-cubic-feet-per-second flow downstream, according to NOAA. The storm caused the river in Baton Rouge to rise 8 feet.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.