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Technology is good but we still need to prepare as knowing a hurricanes is coming does not protect us.

Hurricane forecasting and warning systems have greatly improved in recent years, providing residents with valuable time to plan, but preparedness remains paramount in south Louisiana as another tropical storm season approaches, federal and state officials said at the start of a national conference in New Orleans on Monday. The National Hurricane Conference for emergency preparedness officials comes ahead of the June 1 start of hurricane season — and with climate change leading to an intensification of storms. While Louisiana was spared in 2022, it was hit by a string of storms in the 2020 and 2021 seasons, including hurricanes Laura and Ida, two of the most powerful to ever make landfall in the state. Over the past 20 years, the National Hurricane Center has lowered its track and intensity errors by up to 45% and increased lead time to 12 hours for watches and warnings. And since 2017, it has cut in half the range of error during rapid intensification of storms, said NHC director Jamie Rhome. But Rhome said that while messaging leading up to major storms has been improved, residents must also be conscious of how they prepare. “For the most impactful storms’ average lead time, you’re only going to get 3 days,” Rhome said. “When the forecast changes, you have to dynamically change with it.”

Ian is a case where last minute changes meant areas not in the path suddenly became in the path.

Rhome pointed to Hurricane Ian, which hit Florida in 2022. Ian changed trajectories right before landfall, devastating many underprepared communities and becoming the third-costliest weather disaster on record. Casey Tingle, director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, recalled Hurricane Andrew in 1992, when he was a freshman at LSU. As a North Louisianan, he didn’t know what to expect from a hurricane. When the whole floor of his dorm evacuated, he stayed. “I just kept thinking to myself, this was a huge mistake,” Tingle said. “Why didn’t I do what all of the other students in the hall did and go back home?” Now, he uses this experience as a warning for what not to do. Tingle wants his office to make sure residents know the dangers a storm may bring and how to properly prepare.

Deaths in hurricanes is mostly caused by water.

Rhome pointed to a perhaps little understood fact — and one with huge relevance for Louisiana: The vast majority of deaths during hurricanes are caused by water. From 2013 – 2022, 83% of immediate deaths caused by tropical storms were due to water-related injuries, such as freshwater flooding, rip currents and storm surge. Only 12% were due to wind. “Water is the primary vector by which people are losing their lives and direct fatalities,” Rhome said. “But even if you survived that first wave, you’ve got to be prepared for, in some cases, weeks without power and ultimately oppressive heat that comes with it.” To combat this, all Louisiana parishes have updated shelter and evacuation plans. Following a storm, New Orleans residents are urged to go to a community lighthouse if they have access to one. Entergy has also outfitted power-critical facilities with generators in the case of long-term power outages. FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said her agency will be working with local authorities before storms make landfall to position resources in advance. After a hurricane passes, FEMA will also use new technologies to first give resources to communities that are hit the hardest.

Update the flood insurance policies.

Criswell also urged Louisiana residents to update their flood insurance policies if they haven’t already done so, especially if flood insurance is mandatory for them. “Insurance is the first and best resource that families and individuals have to help get them on the road to recovery after a severe weather event,” she said. “If there is an increase in the number of uninsured people, for whatever disaster it might be, they’re going to have greater needs after that event passes.” Many Louisianans are seeing flood insurance premiums increase under FEMA’s Risk Rating 2.0 overhaul of the program. Criswell said the new system better accounts for the flood risk of each individual home “People that are having increases, I get that,” Criswell said. “But now the risk premium helps them better understand how significant their potential risk is, so they can have the information to make choices about how to better protect their families.”

It is April now and time to start to think.

We can forecast hurricanes better but still prepare