In year's past, the beginning of hurricane season would be just a passing mention in most of the Gulf Coast region, perhaps just a sentence at the end of a weather report, an "Oh, by the way, do you know what today is?" kind of thing. But that was before Katrina. She changed everything.
Nowadays, with the flipping of the calendar page to June the collective tension in the area has risen. Instead of typical summertime talk of vacations and backyard barbecues, you're more likely to hear about evacuation plans and survival kits. No one wants to be caught unprepared.
In New Orleans, still struggling nine months later to put the pieces back together, the mere thought of another storm is enough to make residents weak in the knees. Katrina killed 1,578 people in Louisiana alone, and no one is willing to take this season lightly. Everyone is being urged to plan ahead; to lay out a personal survival plan that takes into account what they'd do, and where they'd go should another storm threaten. The common wisdom is, it won't take much this year to send people scattering for safer ground. Any Category 2 hurricane or above threatening New Orleans will prompt a mandatory evacuation order from city officials. An elaborate, though not universally praised, plan is now in place to get people out. It involves everything from a centralized check-in center, where evacuees will be given scannable ID bracelets, to transportation out of the danger zone for pets.
Adjacent St. Bernard Parish won't even wait for a storm to reach hurricane strength before putting emergency plans into motion. The residents there who are living in trailers (the majority of the parish at this point) will be required to leave at the threat of a mere tropical storm. The memories of crumbled levees, and streets filled with water will be a greater impetus for people to pack up and go, though.
Historically, June and July aren't very active months for hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, in 150 years a hurricane has never hit New Orleans in June; only three in July. It's the thought of what could come later in the season that has people here on edge. June 1 is just an arbitrary date. There are no storms brewing as this season begins, no watches or warnings posted anywhere. But everyone in the region will be much more comfortable when instead of looking ahead from today, they are looking back from November 30, the last day of hurricane season.