With the official start of hurricane season just days away, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released their predictions for 2014. They’re expecting a near-normal or below-normal season in the Atlantic Hurricane basin. Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Newport John Cole says El Niño conditions are expected to develop which would reduce the number and intensity of storms.
“We’re not really sure if it’s going to be a weak El Nino or a moderate El Nino. Some models project a moderate where the water temperatures in the eastern Pacific warm in that area about a degree above normal. And some models are showing about a half of degree Celsius above normal. So, it really depends on that as to how much wind shear we’re going to get across the Atlantic hurricane basin. And if we do get El Nino formed like it’s expected, than we should see a lower number of storms out there.”
NOAA is predicting 8 to 13 named storms, of which 3 to 6 could become hurricanes, including 1 to 2 major hurricanes. Hurricanes and tropical storms are given names which are selected by the World Meteorological Organization. This year, the names of the first few storms will be Arthur, Bertha, Christobal, and Dolly. While meteorologists are predicting a low frequency year, it’s vitally important to be prepared because the threat of a major hurricane is always possible.
“and two years that point this out is 1992 where we had Hurricane Andrew. We only had seven named storms that year. Hurricane Andrew was a category five that devastated south Florida and then went on to strike Louisiana as a category three. Also, in 1993, that was a weak El Nino year as well. And we had a major hurricane on the outer banks Hurricane Emily, which was a category three.”
Whether its storm surge models or hurricane warnings and watches, distributing information to the public is top priority during hurricanes or tropical storms. Local elected officials, weather service offices, the media, and County Emergency Management offices all play an integral role in keeping the public safe during severe weather. As National Hurricane Preparedness Week is underway, emergency management offices across eastern North Carolina have already started getting ready before of the start of hurricane season. Beaufort County Emergency Services Coordinator John Pack says the county is preparing by conducting training on the emergency operations plan.
“The plan has checklist for every man made or natural disaster that we’ve experienced over the years. And each of our agencies through training here at the EOC has gone through their checklist and is checking off the items as being completed, or they’re saying okay we’ve got six new people we need to train them on their responsibilities of the shelter.”
Familiarity with the emergency operations plan paid off when an EF-3 tornado touched down in Beaufort County on April 25th. The tornado lifted and touched down again on the opposite side of the Pamlico River as an EF-2. Hundreds of homes were damaged and 16 people were injured. Pack says this severe weather event gave emergency service providers a chance to improve their planning and coordination with different agencies.
“it involves everyone from Department of Social Services, to the Health Department, of course, the first responder agencies, law enforcement. So we all had the opportunity to get ourselves refreshed through the tornadic event that occurred.”
Pack says the April 25th tornado also revealed some areas where the different agencies could improve their services. Beaufort County utilizes an emergency notification system called Hyper-Reach which calls a person’s cell phone or landline and provides emergency alerts to residents who may be affected by severe weather.
“A lot of home phones got calls ten minutes before the tornados came tearing down through their homes that a tornado was approaching and please take shelter. Several people who had registered with a cell phone got those. But what we had learned is not everyone had taken our message seriously about registering your cell phones.”
Pack says there’s a greater chance a person will receive the important emergency information if it’s delivered to a cell phone, rather than a landline. In the two months since the tornados, Beaufort County Emergency Services has focused on making residents aware of the Hyper-Reach service, and they have more than doubled the number of participation with people receiving alerts on their cell phones. Pack says now have the capability to notify 40,000 Beaufort County residents within ten minutes. He says this type of connection will prove affective before, during and after a hurricane event.
“You can get alerted to the status of hurricanes, to an evacuation notice, to something as simple as the water is going to be off for one day in your home.”
In preparation of hurricane season, Pack says they’re encouraging people to get ready by making a disaster supplies kits and planning their evacuation routes.
“If you’re in a flood plain in Beaufort County, you’re going to get notified to evacuate. And whether you evacuate or not should be a decision that is made by the family. They need to be prepared to execute that evacuation because you can’t take everything with you and we do not encourage anyone to stay inside our flood plain because as we learned in Hurricane Irene, everything in our 100 year and 500 year flood plain in the eastern part of our county got water in it. And just because you elevate your house, does not mean it is safe to stay in that house. When you are completely surrounded by water, you have no escape.”
Keeping residents safe is a priority for Emergency Services offices in eastern North Carolina. Craven County Director of Emergency Services Stanley Kite is encouraging citizens to stay informed via their cell phones.
“We also have in today’s world a lot of apps that are out there. There’s a lot of providers providing services for free, including the National Weather Service, the Red Cross app. North Carolina has a Ready NC site which has a lot of information to help you be prepared and also stay informed and get alerts.”
Kite is also encouraging citizens to sign up for their mass notification system, Code Red, which sends out a text or voice message to Craven County residents who may be in harm’s way.
“We would do more specific information, evacuation information, shelter information, and in some cases if we were highly impacted, we would try to send some recovery or specific instructions to specific communities that were hardest hit through that system.”
Craven County Emergency Management has been conducting simulations and exercises as well as reviewing their action plans ahead of the storm season. Kite says it’s important for residents to stay safe during a hurricane or tropical storm because when sustained winds reach 50 miles per hour, 911 response stops.
“You can’t kill the fire and rescue community and law enforcement community trying to respond when conditions are threatening them. If anyone has a question on that, I’d be glad one day to let them have a courtesy ride when we’re having our March winds of about 35 mph across one of those bridges in one of those box ambulances and I think you’d understand why.”
It’s hurricane preparedness week. And even with a near normal storm season predicted, it’s vitally important to prepare well ahead of any approaching tropical weather. National Weather Service Warning Coordination Meteorologist John Cole encourages folks to prepare a disaster supplies kit.
“You need non-perishable supplies of course, and medicines are essential to last for a duration of at least three to five days. So water would be in there. Those are some of the main things.”
Some other items to include in your disaster supplies kit: a flashlight, extra batteries, cell phone charger, first aid kit, and a battery powered or hand crank radio. For hurricane preparedness tips, visit our website, publicradioeast.org.