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Ref: North Carolina Gov. says state ready for hurricane season

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Easley says N.C. ready for storms


JIM NESBITT, Staff Writer
As federal forecasters predicted an active hurricane season Tuesday, Gov. Mike Easley sought to reassure North Carolinians the state's storm-seasoned disaster team can handle all but the most devastating tropical cyclone.
But the governor also said a key member of that team, the N.C. National Guard, is short of equipment and stretched thin by troop deployments to Iraq and elsewhere. That means North Carolina will need help from other states if struck by anything stronger than a Category 3 storm, such as Hurricane Fran in 1996.
"We feel comfortable with what we have at this point," said Easley, who has been sharply critical of the repeated war deployments of National Guard units. "We'd like more equipment, but we think we're prepared."
As Easley urged North Carolinians to stock emergency supplies and develop family disaster plans, forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued their annual prediction for the hurricane season that starts June 1 and runs through November.
They expect above-average activity, with seven to 10 hurricanes, including three to five of Category 3 strength or higher. All told, NOAA forecasters predicted 13 to 17 named storms for the 2007 season; an average Atlantic hurricane season produces 11 named storms, with six hurricanes, two of them major.
Federal forecasters pegged their prediction to warmer-than-normal surface temperatures in the Atlantic and the expected development of La Nina, a natural phenomenon that produces colder-than-normal surface temperature in the Pacific Ocean west of South America.
If a strong La Nina occurs, storm activity in the Atlantic basin will reach or exceed the higher end of the prediction, forecasters said. But higher-than-average hurricane activity will occur even if La Nina is weaker or fails to appear, they said.
NOAA's prediction is in line with earlier forecasts. Last month, researchers at N.C. State University predicted 12 to 14 named storms forming in the Atlantic basin, with eight or nine hurricanes, including as many as five major cyclones.
Those predictions still fall short of the record-shattering 2005 hurricane season, which saw 28 tropical storms, breaking the previous mark of 21 set in 1933. Of those, a record 15 became hurricanes and four, including Hurricane Katrina, reached Category 5 intensity, a first for records kept since 1851.
Hurricane predictions aren't foolproof. Last year, forecasts proved too high when an unexpected El Nino developed, producing warmer-than-normal surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean and hostile conditions for hurricanes.
In recent weeks, Easley, co-chairman of a National Governors' Association committee that deals with National Guard issues, has spoken out about the impact of war deployments on the Guard's ability to deal with domestic emergencies.
The war in Iraq has sliced into the Guard's stock of trucks, communications equipment and other gear nationwide, hampering its ability to deal with a major hurricane, a flu pandemic or a terrorist attack in the United States, the governor said. The N.C. National Guard has about half its "dual use" equipment, such as trucks that can be used in wars and domestic emergencies.
The N.C. National Guard has 2,800 troops on call for natural disasters, Easley said. But repeated and lengthy deployments have wearied these troops and given them little time to train for natural disasters and other domestic duties.
"We have fewer soldiers here and when they get back, they're worn out," Easley said. "Common sense will tell you there's only so much they can do."
The combination of equipment shortages and tired troops means North Carolina may be stingy in aid it provides another state struck by a storm of Hurricane Katrina scale or a broad-scale disaster such as a terrorist attack or flu pandemic.
"We're going to be loath to let them go during hurricane season, but we want to help as much as we can," Easley said.
With other states facing the same shortages and demands, North Carolina's call for help during a disaster may also be harder to answer, forcing state disaster officials to go farther afield to find the equipment and personnel they need, said Maj. Matt Handley, spokesman for the N.C. National Guard.
That could lengthen the time before such help arrives.
Easley also noted that past storms have caused damage from the coast to the mountains and sounded a strong warning for North Carolinians who don't feel threatened by a hurricane and aren't prepared to face one. The governor cited a poll conducted this month that showed 54 percent of North Carolinians don't feel threatened by a hurricane or related tornadoes and flooding, and more than half don't have a family disaster plan.
"The entire state is at risk when a hurricane hits," Easley said.

Staff writer Jim Nesbitt can be reached at 829-8955 or jim.nesbitt@newsobserver.com.

© Copyright 2007, The News & Observer Publishing Company
A subsidiary of The McClatchy Company

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