Fasten your seat belts.
Believe it or not, hurricane season is upon us. It begins June 1 and lingers through Nov. 30.
While the National Hurricane Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has yet to release its official forecast for 2019, an early forecast from Colorado State University’s Department of Atmospheric Science is predicting an “average” season for the Atlantic Basin, which includes the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea.
By average, the Colorado State scientists expect storm activity to be “slightly below normal.”
They expect as many as 12 named storms with five or more becoming full-fledged hurricanes. They predict that at least two will become major hurricanes with wind levels reaching Category 3 or stronger.
According to the National Hurricane Center website, hurricanes are ranked from category 1-5 based on their sustained wind speeds. Top speeds range from 111 to 129 miles per hour (mph) for a Category 3, 130 to 156 mph for Category 4 and 157 mph or stronger for a category 5.
Early forecasts do not predict where storms will form or whether they will make landfall in the United States. They are subject to ongoing updates and modifications as hurricane season unfolds.
While most Floridians would welcome an “average” or “below average” season after experiencing the storms of 2018, even that would be no guarantee of escaping nature’s wrath.
“It only takes one storm hitting our coastal areas to cause massive destruction. It is best to prepare the same for every hurricane season no matter how much activity is predicted,” Conference Disaster Response Coordinator Pam Garrison said. “I always say the best response to disaster is preparation.”
When it comes to planning, Director LaNita Battles and the Department of Ministry Protection offer two excellent resources.
A one-page summary of what to do in the event of a hurricane:
A Comprehensive Pre-Storm Preparations Checklist for Buildings and Structures: https://flumc.s3.amazonaws.com/C16A6149FCCB4FA9BA456CB4D6A47E83_Pre%20Storm%20Preparation.pdf.
The website offers a Local Church Disaster Planning Guide and the Conference Disaster Plan. Individual tabs cover everything you need to volunteer, receive free disaster recovery training or donate to ongoing hurricane recovery programs.
“People can go on our website and sign up for our email newsletter which will keep them in the loop on everything we are doing,” Garrison said, “as well as link them to other valuable sites.”
In the meantime, here are some things you can do now:
Every church in the Florida Annual Conference should have a disaster plan. If not, refer to the Local Church Disaster Planning Guide at https://floridarestores.com/.
Check your insurance, especially the deductible. Can you pay for what is not covered by your policy? If not, set aside an emergency fund. If changes are needed in a church’s policy, contact the Department of Ministry Protection. (Note: the Conference insures churches. Insurance information for each church is located in the insurance reports section of a church’s dashboard.)
Know the church property. Conduct a physical inspection. Make sure everything is in working order. Make necessary repairs.
Conduct an inventory of all equipment and supplies. Decide how best to secure and protect them during a hurricane.
Trim tree limbs on the church campus or at home.
Begin storing cleaning buckets and supplies, along with ice, water and non-perishable food. And consider if church facilities can help shelter those displaced by the storm.
Garrison is quick to point out that hurricane recovery is a multi-year task.
“Hurricane Irma, which hit in Sept. 2017, for example, was the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in recorded history,” she said. “Some 264 churches, 40 percent of all churches in the conference, reported the damage.
“Thankfully, we received $9 million in grants from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), so that we could set-up work teams in five separate areas of the state. Irma made landfall in Florida twice, and the damage was spread through 15 counties.”
It is a long-term effort. The Conference is in the second year of a recovery program projected to last up to five years. Work is continuing from Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. The United Methodist Church is providing work teams there and services for about 50,000 evacuees who have temporarily relocated to Florida.”
“This is definitely a mission opportunity for all of us,” Garrison said. “We encourage everyone to get involved in the planning and recovery efforts.”
The first free training session for disaster recovery volunteers is June 15 at Fort Pierce UMC.
Volunteer to work, donate or pray. As one of the Conference handouts advises: Pray for the best but prepare for the worst.
If your church campus suffers damage from a hurricane, you can file a claim online, according to LaNita Battles of Ministry Protection.
“You should photograph the damage,” she said, “and then, tarp, board up and protect your property from further damage. Save your receipts for the claims adjustor and be patient.”
Huge storms like Irma quickly tax available resources, and even a tropical storm can cause serious damage. That’s why planning is essential.
“Our job is to help you get back into ministry as quickly as possible,” Battles said. “By working together, we can speed up the recovery process.”
The Florida Conference has established a disaster hotline which can be used in case of emergencies. (855-228-3862).
—Suzanne McGovern is a freelance writer in Orlando.