WASHINGTON – Effective hurricane forecasts, greener construction practices and individual preparedness are keys to mitigating hurricane damage in the coming years, according to experts.
In a press conference at the National Press Club Tuesday, Gerry Bell, a climate change specialist and lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, and Jeremy Gregory, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a disaster relief expert, discussed the procedures for predicting a hurricane season and what can be done to reduce the physical and financial losses caused by hurricanes.
Bell said the NOAA uses analysis of climate patterns and historical trends to create a seasonal hurricane outlook.
Hurricane activity usually alternates between high-activity and low-activity eras that last about 20 years, controlled by predictable climate patterns, Bell said.
“We are still in a high-activity era,” Bell said. “We’ve been averaging three to four major hurricanes a year since 1995.”
Gregory emphasized the need for greater investment in hazard mitigation in order to effectively prepare for hurricanes.
One way to accomplish this is to allocate more funds for pre-disaster prevention instead of post-disaster recovery, Gregory said.
Gregory said he would also like to see more market demand for hazard-resistant construction. He said relying on traditional building codes, which are passed locally and often outdated, is problematic.
Instead, Gregory said a better approach is to build in accordance with green building certification systems like LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).
“The reason that there is construction of those types of buildings is because developers know that there is going to be a market premium for a building that has this LEED rating system,” Gregory said.
Part of the challenge is educating developers on the financial benefits of hazard-resistant construction, Gregory said.
Experts need to clearly communicate the trade-off between “initial investments and operations and maintenance costs throughout something’s life,” he said.
“For every dollar invested in hazard mitigation, there are four dollars that are saved,” Gregory said.
Gregory and Bell stressed that hurricane preparedness is as critical as ever with record numbers of people living in the coastal areas of major hurricane zones during this high-activity period for such storms.
There has been an “exponential type of growth” in the population along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of Florida since 1900, Bell said. He estimates that more than 80 million people are living in the nation’s hurricane zones.
“Every time a storm threatens, there are so many millions of more people in harm’s way, which makes emergency planning and preparedness much more challenging,” Bell said.
Coastal residents should have emergency plans set up ahead of time, Bell said. This involves knowing evacuation procedures, stocking up on essentials such as cash, drinking water and non-perishable food and considering flood insurance.
Bell said the NOAA will release its 2019 pre-season outlook in late May, ahead of the official start of hurricane season on June 1.