By May 27 — five days before the official start of hurricane season on June 1 — the Atlantic Ocean has already seen two tropical storms: Arthur and Bertha. That follows the narrative of experts predicting anywhere between a “slightly above average” season to a “hyperactive” season. (Right now, the El Niño situation is neutral, but some worry it will ramp up later in the summer.)
Any type of hurricane this year will be exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. If there is a storm in South Florida, it will be a “double whammy,” according to Miami-Dade Emergency Management Director Frank Rollason.
“We’ve been telling people that they are safer at home and to isolate and to stay away from people,” he said. If there is a hurricane approaching Florida, that message will change totally. “We are going to be telling people that this impending peril is more imminently dangerous and that you have to move.”
The Keys’ approach to this storm season is largely the same, with a few tweaks. As usual, in an event of a major hurricane (Category 3-5), all residents will be encouraged to evacuate to the mainland. The Florida International University and Fuchs Pavilion locations will be open, according to Monroe County Emergency Management Director Shannon Weiner.
Weiner said there will be temperature checks for anyone entering a shelter, hand sanitizer stations, required face covers and increased square footage per person.
For category 1 or 2 hurricanes, the Keys’ normal shelters will open — Key West High School, Sugarloaf School, Marathon High School and Coral Shores High School. In years past, those seeking shelter gathered in one large space — the gymnasium or cafeteria, for example. In 2020, the increase of square footage guidelines between groups may mean opening some classrooms for family groups, or separate isolation sections of the school for those who are sick.
Although evacuees are always encouraged to seek more comfortable shelters in hotels or with friends and family, that message will be louder this year.
“If you can shelter safety with friends or family, do. Shelters should be a last resort but if you need to come to a shelter, we are making it safe for you,” Weiner said.
The economic fallout of the pandemic is especially worrisome during hurricane season: it takes money to evacuate and shelter and many in the Keys are just getting back to work when the islands reopen on June 1, or the official start of the hurricane season. And, governments are already preparing to slash budgets due to low sales tax receipts.
“We are reliant on tourism,” Weiner told U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell during a recent press conference. “We would ask for your assistance in allowing some of the recovery funds to come down quickly if a storm hits the Keys. It is a challenge we face after every storm.”