June 1 (UPI) -- Federal and state officials are issuing updated emergency management plans as the Atlantic hurricane season officially begins Monday amid a substantially different environment the close of the 2019 season saw last November.
Activity for the 2020 season is expected to be slightly greater in intensity. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts a 70 percent chance of 13 to 19 named storms, with six to 10 becoming hurricanes.
The Colorado State University prediction center expects 14 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes.
Last year, Hurricane Dorian was the season's largest storm. It caused heavy damage in the Bahamas and its outer bands lashed parts of the United States, but the hurricane did not make landfall anywhere in the United States.
Forecasters said Friday there have already been at least two tropical storm systems and possibly a third, which would be the most on record before the official start of the hurricane season.
Experts say this year is especially challenging because hurricanes may force people to seek safety in evacuation shelters even with pandemic-related restrictions, and emergency management officials are adjusting their plans and messaging to cope with the task.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Preparedness officials said in a webinar last week that some may be afraid to go to a shelter due to the health crisis. They also warned there may not be enough masks, face coverings or testing available for everyone and that people may not comply with social distancing and other preventive measures.
"We are worried about people hesitating," Trevor Riggen, senior vice president of disaster services for the American Red Cross, told Politico. "The anxiety around the pandemic itself will cause people to hesitate to evacuate. We want people to know shelters are as safe as they can be."
The CDC recommends that alternatives to opening disaster shelters, such as sheltering-in-place, should be considered if possible. Within shelters, it says, everyone should wear a cloth face covering at all times except when not practical, such as when eating or showering.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said last week it's ready to cope with the hurricane season with nearly $80 billion in funding, twice its usual level due to COVID-19 stimulus appropriations.
In North Carolina, the Red Cross is doubling the amount of space it allocates for each person in shelters to maintain social distancing and will have separate isolation areas for COVID-19 patients.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez is scheduled to hold his annual hurricane preparedness news conference Monday. He is expected to remind residents of the "importance of being ready to protect themselves, their families and their property before, during and after a storm" and additional challenges South Florida faces this season as a result of the pandemic.