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2000 Atlantic hurricane season begins, is expected to be busy
MIAMI (CNN) -- Time for residents along the U.S. East Coast and Gulf Coast to dust off their hurricane tracking charts, get new batteries for the portable radios and stock up on plywood: The Atlantic hurricane season started Thursday.
Experts expect it to be a busy one. Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami predict there will be 11 tropical storms, with seven of them growing into hurricanes packing winds of 74 mph (118 km/h) or more.
"But it's not all about numbers," said Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center. "What really counts is where they make landfall and how strong they are when they do."
The warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, off the lower U.S. East Coast and in the Caribbean are the most likely places for a storm to start, said CNN weather anchor Orelon Sydney.
Knowing when to evacuate
The first named storm of the hurricane season will be called Alberto. Other storm names for 2000 include Beryl, Chris, Debby, Ernesto and Florence.
According to the National Hurricane Center Web site, the storms are named to make it easier for forecasters to keep track of them and to warn people in the path of a storm.
But just getting out the warnings may not be enough. Evacuation plans are just as critical, as officials learned in 1999 when warnings about Hurricane Floyd prompted the biggest peacetime evacuation in U.S. history.
More than 2 million people in states along the lower East Coast jammed highways. Many evacuees were stuck in traffic for hours.
The massive evacuation taught emergency managers a lesson -- they need to do a better job of educating the public on when to leave and when to stay put.
"If you are not required to evacuate, if you don't live in a vulnerable area, it is critical that you stay home," said Michele Baker, the emergency manager for Pasco County, Florida.
James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said he hoped people would realize that the situation was unusual.
"You had multiple states all evacuating at the same time. It was the first time it happened that way, and it did clog the highways," Witt told CNN.
Witt said that from now on, when storms threaten, highways leading away from coastal areas will be made one-way to help speed evacuations.
"Highways will be reversed and activated very quickly if need be to handle the traffic," he said. "We do not want people ... stranded on highways," Witt said.
Having a plan
In 1998, Hurricane Mitch was blamed for the deaths of at least 9,000 people in Honduras and Nicaragua. Hurricane Georges the same year killed 500 people in Hispaniola and was still going strong when it washed over the Florida Keys.
In south Florida, where the terror of 1992's Hurricane Andrew is etched on the collective memory, hurricane preparations are almost a ritual for some families.
"Make sure you have an emergency plan for your family," said Witt. "Know where the hurricane shelters are."
But Witt said the time to prepare for hurricanes is while the sun is shining.
"Make sure that you have the hurricane shutters if you live on the coast, or at least plywood cut and ready to go."
Caribbean residents urged to prepare
The Daily Nation of Barbados advises residents to trim trees and unblock drains ahead of the first hurricane. But in an editorial, the paper lamented: "Unfortunately we still drag our feet too much, only to indulge in a mad rush, at times bordering on confusion, if we learn that a hurricane is approaching."
The National Hurricane Center in the United States also keeps watch over most of the Caribbean, working in close cooperation with authorities in the small island nations. It also has a good working relationship with Cuba, and U.S. hurricane watchers keep in close touch with Havana's Institute of Meteorology.
"Whatever goes over Cuba is likely to go over us, too," Mayfield said.
The Atlantic hurricane season will last until November 30.
Miami Bureau Chief John Zarrella, CNN weather anchor Orelon Sydney and Reuters contributed to this report.
Hurricane satellite launched ahead of storm season
National Weather Service Home Page
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