Forecast: Strong storm season stirring James Witt, director of FEMA, said a recent poll showed a lack of preparedness in communities vulnerable to hurricanes. By Gay Nagle Myers / May 18, 2000 Share 1 -- MIAMI -- The Atlantic Basin hurricane season, which officially begins June 1 and runs through Nov. 30, could be a rough one, with stronger and longer-lasting storms in the Caribbean and along the East Coast, government forecasters said. They predicted an "above average" hurricane season with 11 or more named storms, seven of which will develop into hurricanes -- three of them major.Beryl, Ernesto blowing in soon? MIAMI -- If your name is Beulah, Georges, Hugo, Inez, Lennie or Marilyn, don't look for it on any tropical storm list. ...Once a storm has caused great damage, the offending name is stricken and replaced. Until 1978, hurricanes were named solely after women. Men's names were added to the Pacific storm lists that year and to Atlantic storm lists in 1979. ...Lists are recycled every six years, unless certain names have been retired. Thus, the 1995 list, minus Luis, Marilyn, Opal and Roxanne, reappears in 2001. ...The 1998 season spawned Georges and Mitch, devastating storms whose infamous names have been stricken from the 2004 list. Look for Gaston and Matthew instead. ...The lineup this year: ...Alberto, Beryl, Chris, Debby, Ernesto, Florence, Gordon, Helene, Isaac, Joyce, Keith, Leslie, Michael, Nadine, Oscar, Patty, Rafael, Sandy, Tony, Valerie and William. In a major hurricane, maximum sustained winds top more than 110 mph, and are usually accompanied by tidal surges, flooding and heavy roof and foliage damage.The weather phenomenon called La Nina, which produces cooler than average temperatures in the Pacific, continues to have a significant influence on weather conditions and hurricane forecasts, said D. James Baker, under secretary for oceans and atmosphere at the Department of Commerce.The 1999 season produced five major hurricanes, including Floyd which produced high winds in the Out Islands of the Bahamas and severe flooding in the Carolinas in September.This year the remnants of La Nina, as well as warmer than normal Atlantic Ocean temperatures, are conditions that are "ripe for hurricane activity," Baker said.That is exactly the kind of forecast that concerns officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.James Witt, director, said a recent poll showed a lack of preparedness in communities vulnerable to hurricanes."There's still enormous work to be done to help people understand specific steps to safeguard lives, homes and communities," Witt said.The new poll is part of the National Hurricane Survival Initiative, a first-of-its-kind public service campaign to educate residents along the eastern seaboard and Gulf Coast about hurricane safety.Another initiative is a workshop sponsored by the Weather Channel and the American Meteorological Society June 6 and 7 in Washington to focus on hurricane preparedness and response policies.Government representatives, forecasters and industry leaders will examine measures to ensure the dissemination of accurate information.No one is taking chances this year.Since building codes in the U.S. Virgin Islands were significantly improved after Hurricane Marilyn in 1995, "the territory has avoided any significant structural damage from hurricanes," according to Rafael Jackson, acting tourism commissioner.The USVI has a Hurricane Readiness program in conjunction with the Department of Tourism, Virgin Islands Territory Emergency Management Agency, government agencies and hotels."We do take storm threats seriously, but we believe we are as prepared as a destination can be to withstand significant damage if a hurricane hits our islands," Jackson said.The USVI measures reflect what has taken place on many islands in the hurricane belt.Puerto Rico's Rapid Response Plan, developed after Hurricane Georges in 1998, is designed to disseminate relevant information to media, travel agents, wholesalers and the public quickly.In cooperation with the Bahamas Hotel Association, many of the islands' hotels have instituted the Hurricane Hotel Policy, which guarantees refunds to visitors who have to cancel due to a hurricane.The Bahamas hosted the fourth Weather Conference in Nassau in April for more than 90 broadcast meteorologists from North America.Topics included tracking Caribbean storms, regional geography, safety procedures and storm reporting.New measures are in place on St. Maarten, which was battered by Lenny in 1999 and still has properties closed.These include the designation of safe harbors that can withstand hurricane winds.When a storm threatens St. Maarten, officials will cut off electricity before the storm reaches the island to insure there will be no live wires if power lines are downed.David Hernandez, U.S. tourism director for Antigua and Barbuda, said new building codes and evacuation procedures "have strengthened our tourism infrastructure. We have faced quite a few storms in the past few years and we are well prepared."After Hurricane Gilbert tore through Cancun and Cozumel in 1988, Mexico created a Civil Protection Committee to develop evacuation procedures, according to Ana Mari Irabien, Cancun Convention and Visitors Bureau.Florida officials have improved the state's disaster response plan as a result of recent damage from both hurricanes and wildfires.Visit Florida, the state's public-private tourist promotion organization, now coordinates with the Florida Emergency Operations Center to disseminate storm information.The state's Web site, www.flausa.com, displays a special icon that links to storm-related information.Henry Magenheim, Kimberly Scholz and Jorge Sidron contributed to this report.