An active Atlantic hurricane season during the COVID-19 pandemic, emergency management officials say, means people should get started preparing.
The season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, and forecasts call for more storms than normal. Duke Energy’s meteorologists forecast 20 named storms and 10 hurricanes, and Colorado State University forecasters expect 16 named storms and eight hurricanes. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts a 70% chance of 13 to 19 named storms, with six to 10 becoming hurricanes. The 30-year average is 12 named storms and six hurricanes, and there has been above-normal activity the last four years.
While a hurricane can happen any time, they are most likely between August and October. People who live in Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina should get ready now. High winds, storm surges and flooding from hurricanes have devastated coastal and inland areas served by Duke Energy in those states.
What’s different this year? The pandemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends giving yourself more time to prepare. Ready.gov says to make a plan, assemble supplies (radio, batteries, flashlights, water, food, medicine) and important documents and know your evacuation zone if you live near the coast.
All the while, wash your hands, wear a face mask and keep proper distance from others.
Emergency officials are working on plans to house thousands of people who may be forced from their homes. The Red Cross plans to double the amount of space it allocates for each person in shelters, which will have isolation areas for COVID-19 patients. In Brunswick County, N.C., for example, a high school that normally holds 500 people would take in 100 to 200 people.
To strengthen the infrastructure, Duke Energy has been making grid improvements that can help to reduce outages and allow the company to more efficiently use crews and equipment after a storm. For example, crews are burying outage-prone lines, replacing wooden poles with metal structures that can withstand stronger winds in vulnerable areas, and installing self-healing technology that can detect a power outage to reroute power and restore service faster. Where installed, this technology can reduce the number of customers who have lost power by as much as 75% and can often restore power in less than a minute.
Duke Energy and other power companies follow pandemic safety guidelines while restoring power. As hurricane season begins, Duke Energy is already incorporating lessons learned from restoring power after a big storm during the pandemic. In April, storms caused major outages in the Midwest and Carolinas so the company adjusted operations. Lineworkers, tree crews and damage assessors followed social distancing guidelines and, when appropriate for field work, wore face masks. Room occupancy was reduced for out-of-state crews coming to assist, and COVID-19 testing sites were made available to help promote a healthy and protected workforce.
When responding to outages, crews are provided with personal protection equipment and have new signs to help promote social distancing in the field and work zone safety. Crews are dispatched from their homes, limiting the time spent at company facilities, and support activities, like crew coordination and logistics support, can be conducted remotely.
“We’ve learned a lot about social distancing and keeping people safe,” said Harry Sideris, senior vice president of customer experience and services. “We’ll be applying those lessons on a broader scale should our service areas experience any major storms this hurricane season.”
There are many factors that affect storm response, and Duke Energy is prepared for hurricane season and the additional challenges of responding during a pandemic, but restoration delays are possible after widespread damage and power outages if, for example, the company is unable to secure adequate resources including crews and lodging.
Hurricane preparation tips: Stay safe
- Restock your emergency preparedness kit, including a gallon of water a day per person and per pet for at least three days. Include items that can help protect you and others from COVID-19, such as hand sanitizer, soap and face coverings. Store insurance policies and other important documents in your emergency kit.
- Have a plan for where and how you will evacuate your home. Have a go kit-ready and include pets in your plan.
- Fill prescriptions before a storm approaches.
- If elderly or family members with special medical needs are in the home, have a plan for extended outages.
- Get cash in case power outages prevent using ATMs.
- Download an app through your emergency management agency, TV station or other source that warns about severe weather.
- More information: ready.gov, weather.gov for a hurricane checklist and safety information.
- Follow the emergency management directions for evacuations and sheltering in place.
- Duke Energy's Business Storm Center page has storm preparation tips for businesses.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends the following tips:
- Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature.
- A refrigerator can keep food cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened. If the power will be out for more than 4 hours, use coolers to keep refrigerated food cold.
- A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.
The FDA offers additional tips for proper food handling and storage before, during and after a power outage at www.fda.gov/food/buy-store-serve-safe-food/food-and-water-safety-during-power-outages-and-floods.
If the power goes out
Customers can report power outages by logging on to the Duke Energy mobile app or duke-energy.com or texting OUT to 57801.
Consider all downed power lines and anything touching them energized. Report power line hazards to Duke Energy.