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EMA director urges caution despite NOAA prediction

The 2012 Atlantic hurricane season is officially underway, and although conditions suggest a normal to less-active season, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center says there’s a 70 percent chance of nine to 15 named storms with wind speeds reaching up to 39 mph.

Four to eight of those storms will strengthen to hurricane status (with top winds of 74 mph or higher), and one to three of those will become major hurricanes (with top winds of 111 mph or higher, receiving either Category 3, 4 or 5 status).

To put that into perspective, the average season over the last 30 years has produced 12 named storms with six hurricanes, and three major hurricanes.

However, Butler County Emergency Management Agency Director Shirley Sandy urges everyone to take every necessary precaution regardless of these predictions.

“Everyone needs to have an emergency supply kit available,” Sandy said.

Sandy also stressed that communication among family members is key, and that an unwillingness to leave one’s property in the face of an impending storm can also lead to tragedy.

“Families also should make sure to have out-of-state contacts,” Sandy said.  “That way, they have one place to call in and check even if the case that they become divided.”

The 2012 hurricane season marks the 20th year anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 storm that devastated southern portions of Florida and Louisiana back in August 1992. With that anniversary comes the grim reminder of how irrelevant hurricane pattern predictions can be.

Andrew struck in a season that was predicted to have relatively low activity and only produced six named storms. To this day, Hurricane Andrew is the second-costliest storm in terms of damage to ever hit the United States, preceded only by Hurricane Katrina.

In the wake of the tornadoes that swept across the state last April, Gov. Robert Bentley signed into law a July tax-free holiday on storm supplies, enabling Alabama residents to be prepared for the impending season.

Most counties are set to enforce the sales tax holiday during the weekend of July 6-8.

Items that would qualify for the tax exemption would be gas cans, flashlights, batteries, radios, plywood, first-aid kits, portable generators, and ice chests, to name a few.

Eligible items must be $60 or less, except generators, in which case the cap becomes $1,000.