Hurricane prep critical to boating’s future

ALEXANDRIA, Va. and CAMP SPRINGS, Md. – With what scientists are calling “a very active” hurricane season predicted, the boating industry needs to do a better job pushing its customers to prepare their boats, suggested Scott Croft, assistant vice president of public affairs for BoatU.S., in an interview this morning.

“The industry can’t continue to have these losses,” said Croft, referring to the millions in damage wreaked upon the recreational boating industry during last year’s record hurricane season. “It’s going to reduce the number of people boating. We need to tell boaters that hurricane planning and preparation is not optional. One unprepared boat in a marina can cause havoc.”

Scientists are predicting 13-16 named storms, 8-10 hurricanes, and 4-6 major hurricanes during this year’s Atlantic hurricane season, according to a statement yesterday from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This is above normal but not quite as severe as last year.

While many people assume the responsibility for hurricane education should fall on the marina sector, Margaret Bonds Podlich, BoatU.S. vice president of government affairs, said the future of the entire industry is on the line.

“I think every person in the industry can play a role in hurricane preparedness and education,” she stated during an interview today. “We all have a stake in the end result.”

Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, also weighed in on the hurricane prediction in an interview today.

“It is impossible to predict what this hurricane prediction will mean for the boating industry,” he commented. “The biggest concern is that we cannot afford to lose marinas to hurricane damage. To the extent we can avoid that, we should be okay.”

Dammrich pointed out that, despite the hurricanes last year, new boat sales were flat with 2004, which was a good year for the industry, and boating participation increased.

Legislation to help minimize damage?

One new tool Florida’s marine industry may have in its arsenal as hurricane season approaches comes in the form of House Bill 7175, which would give marinas the ability to secure its customers boats in the case that boat owners are unable to do so.

Podlich said the bill, which came about through collaboration between BoatU.S. and the Marine Industries Association of Florida (MIAF), has been passed by Florida’s legislature and is on its way to the governor.

“About a year ago, we started some very in-depth conversations with MIAF,” she explained. “Boaters need marinas and if marinas want to stay marinas, they need boats. We asked how we could work together to minimize the damage. The end result is this bill.”

The bill would go a long way toward preventing hurricane damage at Florida’s marinas, which is a win-win for boaters and the industry, Podlich suggested.

“Hurricane preparedness is such a critical part of the future of boating in Florida,” she concluded.

Above normal hurricane season expected

NOAA is predicting a continuation this year of the above-normal hurricane activity that began in 1995.

This outlook is produced by scientists at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC), National Hurricane Center (NHC), and Hurricane Research Division (HRD).

Hurricane seasons during 1995-2005 averaged 15 named storms, 8.5 hurricanes, and 4 major hurricanes. NOAA classifies nine of the last eleven hurricane seasons as above normal, and seven as hyperactive. It does not currently expect this year’s hurricane season to be as bad as last year’s record season.

“Whether we face an active hurricane season, like this year, or a below-normal season, the crucial message for every person is the same: prepare, prepare, prepare,” said Max Mayfield, director of the NOAA National Hurricane Center. “One hurricane hitting where you live is enough to make it a bad season.”

On average, the north Atlantic hurricane season produces 11 named storms, with six becoming hurricanes, including two major hurricanes. In 2005, the Atlantic hurricane season contained a record 28 storms, including 15 hurricanes. Seven of these hurricanes were considered “major,” of which a record four hit the United States.

“Although NOAA is not forecasting a repeat of last year’s season, the potential for hurricanes striking the U.S. is high,” added retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.

Warmer ocean water combined with lower wind shear, weaker easterly trade winds, and a more favorable wind pattern in the mid-levels of the atmosphere are the factors that collectively will favor the development of storms in greater numbers and to greater intensity.

The vast majority of named storms and hurricanes are expected to form during August-October over the tropical Atlantic Ocean, which is typical for above-normal seasons. These systems generally track westward toward the Caribbean Sea and/or United States as they strengthen, according to NOAA.

Historically, very active seasons have averaged 2-4 landfalling hurricanes in the continental United States and 2-3 hurricanes in the region around the Caribbean Sea. However, it is currently not possible to confidently predict at these extended ranges the number or intensity of landfalling hurricanes, and whether or not a given locality will be impacted by a hurricane this season, NOAA stated.

The main uncertainty in this outlook is not whether the season will be above normal, but how much above normal it will be. The 2006 season could become the fourth hyperactive season in a row, NOAA added.

Scientists will produce an updated Atlantic hurricane outlook in early August, which begins the peak months (August-October) of the hurricane season, according to NOAA.

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