FORT LEE, Va. --Hurricanes are among nature’s most powerful and destructive phenomena.
On average, 12 tropical storms – six of which become hurricanes – form over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea or Gulf of Mexico annually between June 1 and Nov. 30. The notables among last year’s storms include Michael, the first category 5 hurricane to make landfall in the continental U.S. since Andrew in 1992. For the first time in recorded meteorological history, four hurricanes were active simultaneously in 2018 – Florence, Helene, Isaac and Joyce.
What exactly is a hurricane?
Needed ingredients are tropical oceans, moisture and wind. Heat and energy from the evaporation of warm sea water builds rain-saturated clouds that begin to rotate clockwise around an “eye.” When the winds generated by that rotation reach sustained gusts of 75 mph or more, a category 1 hurricane is born. Add more fuel without the interruption of dry land, and the wind speed and corresponding category increases. Michael’s top gales were 160 mph.
Two big things make a hurricane deadly upon landfall – massive flooding and infrastructure-destroying high winds. Thanks to national news coverage, most adults in America can mentally visualize the families being plucked off roofs in New Orleans or Gulfport, Miss., after Katrina, and entire buildings being torn apart in Panama City, Fla., as Micheal rolled inland.
Size also is part of a Hurricane’s destructive arsenal. Even if the eye of the storm is above land, a trailing rain band still over water can maintain its power, and when the gas is gone, there’s still the matter of slowing it down and dispersing the energy. That means states along the entire East Coast who were fortunate enough to not have a hurricane slam into them directly may likely serve as part of the landing strip for a monster storm still capable of churning up localized weather disturbances that can pack a deadly punch.
Virginia – unscathed by a direct impact last year – has listed 2018 as one of the deadliest hurricane seasons since Isabel claimed 32 lives in 2003. Nearly all of the 15 fatalities were attributed to drowning in flood water. One died in a building collapse caused by a tornado spawned by the remnants of Michael.
Ok. Hurricanes bad. Got it. What’s next?
Preparation and planning, of course. Actions taken now could eliminate a lot of frustration and panic when a massive storm is at our doorstep. It could reduce discomfort and harm to families if a hurricane or any other natural disaster leaves a family stranded at home with hindered access to services, be it food or medical care.
Team Lee members are encouraged to review the information found at www.ready.gov/hurricanes. The web reference offers a wealth of checklists, videos and fact sheets to help families before, during and after a catastrophic weather event.
Paramount among the tips are the following:
- Take time to update or create an emergency supply kit. Keep at least three-days-worth of non-perishable food and water for the household. Other must-have necessities include flashlights, batteries, a first aid kit, medications and a NOAA Weather Radio.
- Collect and safeguard important documents such as passports, birth certificates, and insurance policies.
- Don’t forget about pets. They will need food, water, and veterinary records and medications.
- Without power, gas stations and ATMs may not be working during and after a storm, so keep cash on hand and at least half a tank of gas in all vehicles throughout hurricane season.
- Buy and set aside lumber to cover windows to prevent tree debris and other flying objects from shattering the glass.
- When first notified that a storm is approaching, take time to reduce outdoor hazards. Move items like trash cans, signs, children’s toys and outdoor furniture inside so they can’t be blown around in high winds, potentially damaging homes or injuring people.
- Create an evacuation plan so the entire family knows what to do and where to go in the event of a hurricane. Decide on a route and destination so these decisions won’t have to be made during an emergency. Include pets in the plans for evacuation.
- Upon notification of a hurricane, evacuate immediately if directed by the authorities or a home is not likely to withstand hurricane force winds. Bring the emergency supply kit during evacuation.
- If sheltering at home, fill the bathtub and other large containers with water to ensure there is a supply for sanitary purposes such as cleaning and flushing toilets. Check the emergency supply kit to ensure it has everything needed and that it is still in working order.
- During the storm, stay indoors and away from windows and glass doors. Seek shelter in an interior room without windows if possible. If in a two-story house, go to an interior first-floor room. Continue to monitor the radio or TV for updates about the storm. If the power goes out, turn off major appliances such as the air conditioner and water heater to avoid damage.
- Be alert for tornadoes, which are often spawned by hurricanes. Keep in mind that, while it may seem that the storm is over when the “eye” approaches, the winds will change directions and quickly return to hurricane force after the eye passes.
- In the aftermath of a hurricane, the No. 1 priority is safety. If a home has lost power, discard any refrigerated food that may have spoiled to prevent foodborne illnesses. Do not operate charcoal grills, propane stoves or generators indoors, as these could quickly lead to the build-up of poisonous carbon monoxide. Avoid the use of candles or other open flames indoors, as these are a fire hazard. If flashlights or other light sources are not available, make sure to never leave a candle unattended.
Take time also to review the Alert notification system article posted on the Fort Lee Traveller website – www.fortleetraveller.com, type “Alert mass warning system” in search bar. Additional emergency preparation information can be found at