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Hurricane season starts Monday

Monday will kick off what is predicted to be a “near to normal” hurricane season for 2009, with four to seven hurricanes likely, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

NOAA officials say it is likely there will be nine to 14 named storms, and, of the predicted hurricanes, one to three will be major hurricanes — storms classified as Category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson scale of storm intensity and with winds of 111 mph or higher.

In 2008, there were 16 named storms and eight hurricanes, five of which were major. It was among the busiest and costliest seasons to date, with about $54 billion in damages, according to the National Climatic Data Center.

Just days ago, the first tropical depression of the season — Tropical Depression No. 1 —formed off the East Coast. Forecasters say the depression isn’t likely to become a tropical storm, so it will not receive a name, but it could be indicative of what is ahead in the coming months.

In light of recent activity and the number of storms in 2008, staff at the Covington County Chapter of the American Red Cross is urging residents to get prepared.

“Everyone saw what happened last year with such an active season,” said executive director Jeffery Biggs. “We need to be ready; this could very well become an active season also. The Red Cross — we’re not the ones who predict (the storms), but we follow those predictions closely. And we all need to prepare ahead of time.”

Biggs said there are three steps the Red Cross encourages residents to take during this time of year:

“Make a kit, have a plan and be informed,” he said. “You’re the best person to determine what you need to make it through a storm. Those items need to be put together in a kit. It should include supplies, water, clothing, copies of important documents, food, toys for kids and medication with prescription labels.”

Biggs said families should make an evaluation plan.

“Know ahead of time where you’re going to go if you evacuate and know how to get there,” he said. “Main roads may not be the way to go, so have alternate routes to follow. Have as map of that area.

“And finally — be informed,” he said. “Not all storms are the same. Listen closely to updated weather and evacuation information.”

Free information on how to prepare hurricane kits and evacuation plans are available at the Red Cross office on Hillcrest Drive, at Brooks Hardware and at Andalusia insurance agencies.

Hurricane season ends Nov. 30, and the weather agency will release an updated hurricane outlook in August, ahead of what it says is historically the peak period for hurricane activity.

For more information on hurricane season, visit NOAA’s Web site at www.noaa.gov.