June 1 marks the start of the annual Atlantic Basin Hurricane season, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) 2019 hurricane forecast released the last week of May predicts the probability of a near normal season for tropical weather development this year.
But Gerry Bell, lead hurricane season forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, warns driving influences of storm development this summer could equally produce more or less storm activity as the hurricane season unfolds.
“NOAA’s 2019 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook includes all activity in the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean from June 1 through Nov. 30 this year. Atmospheric and ocean conditions that factor into this outlook include competing signals,” Neil Jacobs, acting NOAA administrator told reporters at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport during the press conference. “On one hand, the ongoing El Nino is expected to persist and suppress activity this hurricane season. On the other hand, warmer than average sea surface temperatures…combined with an enhanced West African monsoon favor increased activity.”
Overall the official NOAA outlook calls for 9 to 15 named storms, 4 to 8 of which are expected to reach hurricane strength with 2 to 4 of those storms becoming major hurricanes of Category 3 or above.
U.S. farmers and ranchers located within a few hundred miles of Atlantic and Gulf coast waters are aware of the potential dangers serious tropical storm systems, including hurricanes, can bring. Last year alone, in 2018, agricultural losses to tropical weather in the U.S. and its territories reached a record level.
“The storms (hurricanes) that impacted the U. S. in 2018 caused $50 billion in damages,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross noted at the NOAA press conference.
In Texas, Hurricane Harvey ravaged coastal areas of south and southeast Texas in 2017 causing unprecedented damages totaling over $200 million in agricultural losses. Cotton farmers suffered substantial losses as crops in the field were lost as well as cotton that was baled and awaiting transport to or that had been stored at area gins awaiting transport to buyers.
An estimated 1.2 million beef cows in 54 counties were lost, stranded, destroyed or adversely affected by Harvey. National Guard helicopters from multiple states were flying in bales of hay in an attempt to feed stranded livestock. Farms and ranches were heavily damaged and farm equipment and human lives were lost.
During that same year Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit U.S. property on the Atlantic coast bringing death, destruction and more agricultural losses, making 2017 another one of the costliest to farm and ranch operations in the United States.
FEMA warns to prepare for hurricane season now
During the press conference, Dr. Daniel Kaniewski, acting FEMA director, warned communities, individuals, industry and business interests to prepare early for the upcoming hurricane season.
“My message today (is), it only takes one landfalling hurricane to cause great destruction to a community, thus we need to prepare now. That includes our state, local and federal partners, but it also means you as individuals, families and communities…to take action now to protect yourselves, your property and your financial future,” he warned.
Kanieswki advises those who might be in harm’s way to build an emergency kit including essentials like food, water and medicines, “enough to care for yourself and others after a disaster.” He also recommends developing a plan to communicate with friends and family after a storm and to become familiar with evacuation routes before the season arrives.
FEMA also warns to heed the advice and warnings of local and emergency officials, remain alert and aware of the latest information, and to make certain to have a fully charged battery-powered radio on hand. Farmers and workers should secure all equipment and be prepared to care for livestock and pets for the duration of an extended emergency.
Federal disaster resources
Last month the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a reminder to farmers and ranchers in areas subject to tropical weather to prepare early for possible disasters. In a continuing effort to serve the public, USDA partnered with FEMA and other disaster-focused organizations and created the Disaster Resource Center website, located at www.usda.gov/topics/disaster.
The site offers disaster information and features a searchable knowledge base of disaster-related resources powered by federal agents with subject matter expertise. USDA says the Disaster Resource Center website provides an easy access point to find USDA disaster information and assistance.
Help with crop and livestock losses
USDA warns that when hurricanes devastate agricultural lands, producers need to be able to identify which USDA programs can help them rebuild and recover.
USDA’s new disaster assistance discovery tool through its new website at Farmers.gov walks producers through five questions to help identify personalized results of which disaster assistance programs can help with recovery efforts following a natural disaster.
Also, the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) administers many safety-net programs to help producers recover from eligible losses, including the Livestock Indemnity Program, the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program, Emergency Forest Restoration Program and the Tree Assistance Program.
The FSA Emergency Conservation Program provides funding and technical assistance for farmers and ranchers to rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disasters.
Visit and bookmark these sites as resources for when disaster strikes your farm or ranching operation.