For the six-month Hurricane season, which began June 1 and ends November 30, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has predicted a near-normal season.
NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center says there’s a 70 percent chance of nine to 15 named storms (with top winds of 39 mph or higher), of which four to eight will strengthen to a hurricane (with top winds of 74 mph or higher); of those, one to three will become major hurricanes (with top winds of 111 mph or higher, ranking Category 3, 4 or 5).
Based on the period of 1981-2010, an average season produces 12 named storms with six hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.
While many people actively begin making preparations for a storm once a hurricane or tropical storm has entered the Gulf of Mexico, local, state and federal officials have long been readying for the next six months of possible storm threats.
Zachary officials began a year ago solidifying phased plans of action to implement once a named storm has Louisiana in its sights, says Chris Davezac, Department of Public Works Director.
"We've been meeting for a year now and have three phases of critical steps to follow," Davezac said. "Department heads from the DPW, Mayor's office, fire, police and other local institutions such as DEMCO, Entergy, Lane RMC and school district personnel have all been involved and will engage when the time comes."
Davezac said Phase I is implemented when a storm is 72 hours out and includes the fueling of vehicles, designating leaders for teams, filling/maintaining water towers and wells, checking and upgrading generators for service and servicing all equipment. Sandbagging also begins.
In the event a hurricane hits Zachary, sand will be available at Zachary Youth Park, but citizens will be required to fill their own bags. Sand - which is provided by East Baton Rouge Parish - will be given out on a first come, first served basis, noted Davezac.
Sand, bags and shovels will be provided for residents to fill their own bags.
Davezac said there will be attempts made to deliver sandbags to the elderly or those who are homebound if there is time. "We will deliver to spots that have major issues first and get to the elderly as best we can," he said.
Phase II requires communicating with all departments and agencies, scheduling work crews, tying up loose ends, radio checks and coordinating with an Emergency Operation Center in Baton Rouge.
Davezac said shelters, evacuation routes and triage centers will also be designated at that time. (Zachary High School will serve as a shelter.)
Finally, Phase III means no crews on the roads, personnel are on stand-by and calls are prioritized. No work on private property is allowed and contacting of other agencies begins, if needed.
Davezac said every department has their own specific plan of what they'll be doing and when, but all will be following a basic phased plan.
"I thought Hurricane Andrew was bad for Zachary, but Gustav was much worse," Davezac said.
During Gustav, many of the local bayous and streams flooded, causing major issues for residents.
Davezac said the clearing out of Cypress Bayou, which flooded the worst during Gustav, has been cleared of debris months ago. "We will continue checking (Cypress) on a regular basis and clearing out throughout the season," said Davezac.
Another precautionary measure taken this hurricane season, different from years past, has been the upgrading and maintenance of generators. "We've got new generators now that we can hook up to our sewer lift stations," Davezac said. "After Gustav, we had issues with back-up in those areas."
In addition, Davezac said DPW workers are cleaning out the concrete trenches monthly in the areas of Old Baker Road and the Avenues.
"The city's recent sewer improvements and drainage work, made possible from a voter-passed bond, should help with the issues we experienced during Gustav," Davezac said.
Davezac urges citizens to heed all weather warnings. "We need people to stay at home and off the streets during and after storms," said Davezac. "Do not come out, and heed all warnings. I've got about 30 employees working to take care of about 15,000 residents, and although we can't be everywhere at once, we will do our best to get to everyone's emergency situations. But we ask that the roads remain clear for us to do our jobs."
Davezac said the city will also be broadcasting updates and information on the new LED sign located in front of the City Hall Annex Building. "We want the Zachary community to stay tuned to local media and weather stations," Davezac urged. "We will be communicating with parish agencies and media in efforts to get good information back to Zachary residents."