Hurricanes And COVID-19: New Hanover County Prepares For Combination

May 12, 2020

Hurricane season officially starts June 1. And the 2020 Atlantic season is forecast to be more active than usual, according to the National Hurricane Center. Some are even calling for an “extremely active” season. New Hanover County is preparing for the worst. 

A forecast of a more active hurricane season doesn’t mean there will be more storms, or storms will make it to the North Carolina coast. It’s a forecast, not a guarantee.

“You know outside of COVID for traditional hurricane years we take the National Weather Service’s prediction on the intensity and number of storms I mean really with a grain of salt.”

Steven Still is the Director of Emergency Management for New Hanover County. He says the County does use the forecasts as a guide, and they do take every storm seriously.

This year, with COVID-19, they’re taking the forecasts even more seriously.

“I got that unfortunate news as well from our partners here at the National Weather Service. No, not something we'd like to hear, particularly dealing what we're dealing with.”

“Yeah, it is a spin on our planning efforts. You know. We had hurricane Matthew and Florence on years that were near normal or below normal prediction. So, their accuracy on that is it's still pretty variable. We still plan as if we are going to get a catastrophic storm every year and just take some of the information. The National Weather Service gives us the planning just to put in our back pocket.”

Still says planning for the 2020 season is more complicated than normal.

“Every year we plan an exercise. But when you put COVID into the mix, that certainly changes our, our planning perspective. Um, for many types of storm, whether it's a weak tropical storm up to a major hurricane that it throws wrinkles in many aspects of our current plan.”

He says if a storm hits, finding shelter for evacuees will be a problem.

“Yeah. It makes the whole concept of congregate sheltering that much more difficult. So for the past month, we've been having discussions locally here in New Hanover County and regionally and with the state to see what that looks like. So if I had to do congregate sheltering at one of my shelter sites, the number of people I can put in that facility has been reduced, to honor the social distancing and separation. And trying to reduce that risk as much as possible.”

County officials are working with state officials to find solutions. 

“We actually have a phone call today with the state and a few of our other sheltering partners to see if they're willing to help us with direct pointed evacuation and sheltering out of the County and other type of settings such as dormitory or hotel placement. So we're not having to take on that risk of sheltering in a congregate setting here in the County. So that's something we're, we're planning on, we're having discussions at the state regional level.”

Hurricane season starts in two weeks. Vince Winkel WHQR News.