Hurricane unprepared: we don’t prepare for what we don’t understand

Hurricane Hugo in 1989

Hurricane Hugo in 1989

It is that time of year again. We start hearing more and more about the upcoming hurricane season. News articles are released highlighting the potential for the season: will it be quiet or busy? What does that even mean? Most people have no idea.

Soon, the TV hurricane specials will air, printed hurricane guides will grace the check-out lanes at your local grocery store or big box retailer. All of this material is intended to help get you prepared for the season ahead. Unfortunately, none of the material can give you what you really need and that is experience and thus understanding. This is why, in my opinion, most people do not prepare adequately – they simply have no hurricane motivation; they have not been in one previously to fully understand the ramifications of not preparing for the next one.

Experience is our best teacher. This is proven time and again in just about anything we deal with in life. The more we experience something, the better we are at dealing with it in most cases.

Think about Florida for a moment. It has been over eight years since any hurricane what so ever has directly impacted the state. The last one was Wilma in late October of 2005. Anyone born in the state since then has zero hurricane experience. Anyone who moved to Florida since 2005 likely has zero hurricane experience. So why would we expect these people to prepare in such a way as to deem them “hurricane prepared”? They have little to no idea what it’s like and thus no measuring stick to gauge their own risk. Television meteorologists and printed hurricane guides can show mountains of video, computer graphics and more to drive the point home but I believe the lack of preparedness is directly related to the lack of true understanding of what hurricanes are all about.

While education is very helpful, I think that the vast majority of coastal dwellers will not fully grasp the risks they face when dealing with hurricanes unless they have been in one, especially a high-impact event like Katrina or Andrew. This makes perfect sense. People in coastal Mississippi who have lived there for a while know hurricanes and they prepare for them. On the other hand, how many people in New Jersey or New York really understood what was about to happen when Sandy was approaching? Time and time again we heard the reports of how surprised people were in the wake of Sandy. It’s all based on experience. This is not difficult to figure out. And so I cannot really find fault with people who do not prepare to the extent that we hope they would. What motivation do they have to prepare for something that they don’t truly understand? Very little….until it happens to them.

As we inch ever closer to June 1 and the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season, I offer this advice for people who live in harm’s way. Talk to those who have been through a hurricane – especially a significant hurricane. Ask them what it was like, not just the effects but the stress of dealing with everything before, during and after. Perhaps some of their experience can translate to you and give you just enough motivation to do something, anything, to lessen the effects of the next hurricane on you and your family. History is a great learning tool and America’s hurricane history is profoundly rich with stories from legendary hurricanes of the past. Read about them and then try to project those scenarios on your life. Can you handle a modern day Galveston 1900 storm? What about a Camille? Andrew? Hugo? Those events really happened and although they are in the past, they all have the ability to transcend time to teach us something.

I worry about how long we have gone without a true intense hurricane impacting the United States. Are we ready to deal with plucking people from rooftops? Do we have enough supplies to feed and shelter potentially tens of thousands of people left homeless by the next Andrew or Katrina? Are local, state and federal officials prepared? How much hurricane experience do they have? It’s been a while folks and even though we would rather go forever without there being another hurricane landfall, we know that won’t happen. The hurricane clock is ticking, even if it does so in silence. None of us knows when the alarm will sound and I assure you, there is no snooze button. Take it from me, you had best do what you can to try and understand hurricanes and their hazards now, before one comes knocking on your door.

Hurricane season begins June 1. National Hurricane Preparedness Week kicks off May 25. Use that time to learn about hurricanes, know their history, know their impacts. As the classic G.I. Joe saying goes, “Knowing is half the battle”.

M. Sudduth 8:15 AM May 1

Share

Significant non-tropical storm to affect Florida and East Coast over the weekend

It appears that quite a potent storm is going to take shape over the eastern Gulf of Mexico this weekend as upper level energy digs in from the Great Plains. A surface low is forecast to form over the eastern Gulf and bring the potential for very heavy rain and severe weather to portions of Florida (figure 1).

Figure 1: Coastal Storm - 48 Hour Forecast from GFS

Figure 1: Coastal Storm - 48 Hour Forecast from GFS

From there, the low is forecast to move up the East Coast, bringing with it wind and rain all the way to New England. For coastal areas, this will be basically a warm (relatively speaking) Nor’easter. If this were January, we would probably be looking at an epic snowstorm for a good deal of the East Coast. As it stand now, a decent rain event looks to be in store for a wide swath of the Florida peninsula all the way up to Maine with coastal areas experiencing rough seas and a stiff onshore flow (figure 2).

The storm is non-tropical in nature but will tap warm Gulf of Mexico water that is itself running well above normal for this time of year. This warm water will add energy and moisture to the storm system and provide the fuel for it to strengthen and dump copious amounts of rain along its track. If you have outdoor plans this weekend in Florida all the way to New England, keep up to date on the latest weather forecast for your area.

Figure 2: Coastal Storm - 60 Hour Forecast from GFS

Figure 2: Coastal Storm - 60 Hour Forecast from GFS

One excellent tool to understand the impacts better of any storm event is to read the local forecast discussion from your National Weather Service office. You can find this by going to www.weather.gov and typing in your ZIP Code. Then scroll down on the landing page to find “Forecast Discussion”. It will have detailed meteorological information with timing, impacts and projected watch/warning info for any storm event forecast for your area. It’s a great tool, use it.

 

Share