Thursday marked the first day of the Atlantic hurricane season, and Walker County’s emergency management team is making every effort to reach all citizens who may be affected, especially those who have special needs.

“We need to know where our people are at,” said Butch Davis, emergency management coordinator for the county. “The state has more than 500 people registered in the 2-1-1 system the United Way helped develop.”

Operators man the 2-1-1 telephone lines and can aid registration for individuals in three categories — transportation, medical and fragile special needs. The service is free and, in case of an emergency or major evacuation, those registered will be assured assistance.

People are asked to register by dialing 2-1-1 if they have a physical disability or health care need making evacuation difficult, if they cannot drive or do not have transportation and if they are elderly or in need of some other special care.

“They need to preregister because the day of a disaster is too late,” Davis said. “They can certainly register with 2-1-1 directly, but we would like them to contact us at the office of emergency management as well, just so we know who needs what.”

To register with the county, those who fit special needs categories or those who need more information can call (936) 435-2400 and ask for Davis.

“I think evacuation might not be as big of a problem here, outside of the storm surge area, but we may have some special needs people in the area who might need safe shelter,” Davis said. “There is absolutely no cost for this service.”

This hurricane season will be active, but it shouldn’t be as destructive as last year’s record-setting season, one of the nation’s top hurricane forecasters said Wednesday.

The latest forecast from William Gray’s team at Colorado State University calls for 17 named storms for the 2006 season. Nine storms are expected to become hurricanes, and five of those are expected to have winds of 111 mph or greater, the forecasters said.

“If the atmosphere and the ocean behave as they have in the past, we should have a very active season, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into storms that produce as much destruction as last year,” said Gray, who has headed the hurricane forecast team for 22 years.

The four big storms that made landfall in 2005 set a record.

“Statistically, the odds of having four major storms make landfall this year are very small,” said Phil Klotzbach, a research associate on the team.

The forecast says there is an 82 percent chance that at least one major hurricane will make landfall in the U.S. this season; the long-term average probability is 52 percent. There is a 69 percent chance a major hurricane will strike the East Coast, including the Florida peninsula, and a 38 percent chance one will strike the Gulf Coast, according to the forecast.

The 2005 season was the most destructive in recorded history, with 28 named storms, 15 hurricanes and seven intense hurricanes, including Katrina, which devastated Louisiana and Mississippi and killed more than 1,300 people.

Earlier this month, forecasters with the National Hurricane Center and two other National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration agencies issued a similar prediction, calling for 16 named storms, six of them major hurricanes.

Gray said the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June through November, is likely to be active for 15 to 20 more years but another season as busy as 2004 and 2005 is statistically unlikely.

From 1971 to 1994, there were an average of 8.5 named storms, five hurricanes and just over one major hurricane, according to government statistics.

—The Associated Press contributed to this story

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