Some records might be worth breaking. But “most active hurricane season ever” isn’t one of them, given how destructive hurricanes are. Nevertheless, the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season broke the record for most activity ever, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. What could that mean for 2021 and beyond, especially for families and kids?
Normally, hurricane season officially begins June 1 and ends November 30. But Arthur, the first named storm of the season, formed on May 16. During the next six months, 29 more storms occurred. AccuWeather Chief Broadcast Meteorologist Bernie Rayno said, “It never stopped.” Of the hurricanes that swept through, six became “major,” meaning Category 3 or stronger. It was the fifth consecutive season with above-normal activity, said NOAA.
In addition to 2020 seeing the most big storms, AccuWeather says many other records were broken as well, from earliest-forming storms to how quickly the hurricanes picked up speed and force. As the storms made landfall, they did what big, powerful forces of wind and rain do: tore off roofs, turned neighborhood streets into raging rivers, destroyed homes, vehicles, and local businesses, and wrecked human lives. Hurricane Laura killed at least 40 people and caused $25 to $30 billion of damage in Louisiana alone, piling on to damage wrought by Hurricane Delta earlier in the season and weakening the state’s defense against Hurricane Zeta at the end. In fact, a record was set in Louisiana this year for most storms making landfall there in a single season.
Hurricane Eta swung through the Caribbean before landing on the west coast of Florida, near Tampa, a region that “very rarely absorbs a direct hit from a tropical system,” AccuWeather reported. Hurricane Isaias pummeled the East Coast, where people in Philadelphia and New York City in particular felt its wrath, both during, when numerous tornadoes were spawned over the region, and afterwards, when power outages crippled people’s ability to recover for several days.
Wherever hurricanes occur, families are negatively impacted. Parents and children may be forced to evacuate their homes or risk getting trapped in flood waters or stuck without power and light. Youngsters can be traumatized if they witness trees being uprooted and cars being washed down a road, or if they have to flee and shelter with strangers. Studies done on the impact of Hurricane Katrina on children found that many experienced depression and a great deal of stress–even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)–because they’d been separated from a caregiver or a pet during the storm or evacuation, or had witnessed family members or friends being injured or killed.
Meteorologists and climatologists agree that climate change and the resulting warmer than average Atlantic Ocean surface temperatures played a factor in this year’s record-breaking hurricane season. What could this mean for 2021 and the years beyond? Jim Kossin, an atmospheric research scientist at NOAA’s Center for Weather and Climate, researches extreme storms and their relationship with climate and climate change. “The evidence continues to mount that hurricane behavior has changed over the past decades, and even the past century, and will continue to change over the next century as the climate continues to change,” he warns.
“Globally, tropical cyclones are about 25% more likely to be at major hurricane intensity now than four decades ago…Hurricanes are more likely to rapidly intensify and they are more likely to move forward more slowly and stall more often over land.”
In other words, whether there are more or less hurricanes next year, you could expect them to be more powerful and last longer.
What does that mean for parents and families? Be prepared!
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has compiled an excellent set of resources to help you get ready. Among their recommendations: make a plan. If you think you’ll need to evacuate, know where you’ll be going. If you plan to shelter in place, ensure that you can do so safely. Let your kids know what the plan is to give them a sense of security. Also, assemble an emergency go-kit in late Spring, before hurricane season kicks off in May. It should include enough water, food and other emergency supplies for at least three days, and medications for seven days. Know that older children can carry their own backpacks with their own supplies, along with a special toy or book that might help comfort them should an evacuation occur.
You should also be prepared for hurricane season to start earlier and end later. The National Weather Service’s National Hurricane Preparedness website offers many additional resources to help you survive a hurricane with minimal impact.
Finally, help your kids learn about hurricanes and how climate change is impacting them. WeatherWizKids.com offers a very clear explanation of what a hurricane is and how it forms. TheKidsShouldSeeThis.com offers an excellent video showing the link between climate change and hurricanes.