WASHINGTON AND HOLMES COUNTIES - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts a 75-percent chance of a normal or close to normal hurricane season. And although that beats out last year's extremely active season - that brought us category 5 hurricanes Maria and Irma - local emergency management officials advise to take the 2018 hurricane season seriously.
"Anytime you're in the Gulf Coast region, then you take it seriously," said Washington County Fire Services Coordinator Rick Kerr, whose office in out of and coordinates with the county's emergency management. "For example, (subtropical storm Alberto) spun up before the hurricane season even started. If the Gulf waters were a bit hotter, it could have intensified to a category 1 hurricane."
"So, it can happen at any time," he said.
National public service website Ready.gov offers a few basic preparedness tips: have an evacuation plan and route, assemble go-bags that include flashlights, batteries, cash, first aid supplies, medications and copies of critical information, plan for adequate supplies (waters, nonperishable food, etc.) if you decide to stay home, and be sure to sign up for local emergency alerts.
"Everybody in their family needs to understand what the evacuation plan is," said Wendy Mayor, Director of Emergency Management in Holmes County. "They need to know where they will evacuate to; their shelters that are located in their counties."
Mayo and Kerr recommend each family prepare per person three to seven days of food, water and medications. First aid kits and other supply kits should be prepared, as well, officials said.
NOAA predicts a 10 out of 16 named storms (winds of 39 miles per hour or higher), of which five to nine could become hurricanes (winds of 74 miles per hour or higher) and one to four major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 miles per hour or higher).
Both counties open emergency shelters when a state of emergency is communicated or declared by state officials. Call the respective offices for more information.
Mark Mauldin, UF/IFAS Extension Agent for Washington County, reminds people to make preparations for their livestock and pets.
"We worry about water with pasture animals," Mauldin said. "Have a plan to get water to your animals in the event that power gives out for an extended period of time."
It is recommended that back-up generates be used to power water supply for the pastures; however, in an extreme emergency, it's okay to give livestock access to surface water, such as ponds.
"Animal identification is also important," he noted. "In the event that cows roaming, it helps to sort things out if the animals are tagged, at least."
Clay roads become slick and dangerous after or during heavy rains. Staying off the road is one of the best ways to keep you and others safe, also, frees up roadways for emergency vehicles to get to downed power lines, trees or residents in need, officials said.
"You never know how quickly things can change in the storms, watch and pay attention to the watches and warnings issued," Mayo said. "I know it has been a while since we've had anything active -- Irma last year was the first in 10 years; (but) it only takes one storm."
From lists of local shelter location to storm tracking charts to special needs registry, which provides special assistance to individuals with special needs, the local offices have a wealth of resources to help residence get prepared.
"We just want to encourage all of our residents to be prepared, don't be complacent. have a storm kit and remember that readiness is everybody's job," Mayo concluded.
To sign up for free weather alerts go to www.AlertHolmes.com or www.AlertWashington.com. Washington County Emergency Management is located at 2300 Pioneer Road in Chipley; phone number is 850-638-6203. Holmes County Emergency Management is located at 1001 E. Highway 90 in Bonifay; 850-547-1112.