Hurricane 2017: Be prepared

We are in hurricane season, as Tropical Storm Cindy reminded us in late June. Cindy’s excessive rain over multiple days was eerily reminiscent of the weather pattern which led to the August 2016 flooding. When low-lying areas recently suffered up to 12 inches of rain they flooded yet again, while people kept a watchful eye on river levels and successive tornado watches and warnings.
Thankfully, widespread flooding did not occur, but it reiterated the fact that a hurricane, tornado, tropical storm or even a lingering rain event can change your life and community, as we well know, and the time to get prepared for an extreme weather event is now.
evacuationSo far, the 2017 tropical storm/hurricane season has been relatively quiet, with just five named storms but no hurricanes – yet. But don’t be lulled into thinking we may not see any hurricanes develop this season; since hurricanes started being recorded in the mid 1800s, there have been only two years which had no recorded hurricanes: 1907 and 1914.
NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an American scientific agency within the United States Department of Commerce that focuses on the conditions of the oceans and the atmosphere) has predicted 2017 will have 11 to 17 named storms (which is more than the 30-year average for the Atlantic Basin), with 5 to 9 of them becoming hurricanes, and 2 to 4 of which may likely become major hurricanes.
There is no way to know how accurate their prediction will be, but since we have not yet entered the prime hurricane months of August and September (and October, to a lesser extent), the greatest risk from hurricanes still lies ahead, and preparations should be made.
Looking at the history of hurricanes that affect the United States, it is striking to note that so many tropical storms and hurricanes make landfall in those prime months. With the exception of three storms, ALL hurricanes from 1886-1956 occurred in the months of August, September and October, and the vast majority of storms since 1956 are also in these months. September traditionally gets the most storms, then August, and then October – and the weeks before and after Labor Day have been very active times for hurricanes, including Katrina, Ike, Ivan, Andrew, Irene Frances and Gustav which had extreme local impact.
An astounding fact is that the top 22 Atlantic basin storms which wreaked the most havoc in destruction of property and deaths ALL made landfall in August, September or October. They were: Katrina – Aug 29, 2005 ($108 billion in damage/1,836 deaths); Sandy – Oct. 25-29, 2012 ($75 billion/354 deaths); Ike – Sept. 13, 2008 ($37.5 billion/74 deaths); Wilma – Oct. 24, 2005 ($29.4 billion/10 deaths); Andrew – Aug 24, 1992 ($26.5 billion/44 deaths); Ivan – Sept. 1, 2004$23.3 billion/92 deaths); Irene – Aug. 28, 2011 ($16.6 billion/49 deaths); Charley – Aug. 13, 2004 ($16.3 billion/15 deaths); Matthew – Oct. 8, 2016 (16 billion/744 deaths); Rita – Sept. 24, 2005 ($12 billion/97 deaths); Hugo – Sept. 22, 1989 ($10 billion/107 deaths); Frances – Sept. 5, 2004 ($9.8 billion/7 deaths); Georges – Sept 25, 1998 ($9.7 billion/604 deaths); Allison (tropical storm) – 2001 ($9 billion/23 deaths); Jeanne – Sept 26, 2004 ($7.6 billion/3,035 deaths); Gilbert 1988 ($7.1 billion/318 deaths); Floyd – Sept. 16, 1999 ($6.9 billion/65 deaths); Gustav – Sept. 1, 2008 ($6.6 billion/112 deaths); Mitch 1998 ($6.2 billion/11,000-18,000 deaths); Isabel -Sept. 18, 2003 ($5.3 billion/40 deaths); Opal – Oct. 4, 1995 ($5.1 billion/63 deaths); Stan – Oct. 4, 2005 ($3.9 billion/1,668 deaths).

hurricanemap2017The deadliest storm to hit the United States was the Galveston hurricane of Sept. 8, 1900, which killed 6,000-12,000 residents of that city with a population of 38,000. The wide variance of the estimated number dead is due to the overwhelming number of people killed that the city had to cope with when a 15-foot storm surge flooded the city, the widespread destruction of government resources, and limited reporting systems in 1900.

Do you have a disaster plan ready?
1. Decide on a family disaster plan now because when a disaster occurs you my not have time or the presence of mind to think of everything that needs to be done.
Make a plan for dealing with a tornado, hurricane or rising water, and discuss the plan with all family members. Remember that all of your plans depends on your getting out early before trees downed by hurricane winds block roads or flood waters make roads impassable.

~Since your personal safety and that of your family should be your foremost concern, think about it now, and decide WHEN you will evacuate  whether its when a major hurricane bearing down on Louisiana makes first landfall or when rains swell local rivers to a certain stage.
~Decide where you will go if you need to evacuate, and identify primary and alternate routes. Have a backup place defined in case your first choice of shelter is impacted by the storm. Since pets may not be allowed in shelters, if you have a pet, contact hotels, motels, family members and animal shelters ahead of time to see if they will accept pets. Keep a contact list of “pet friendly” locations.
~Decide now and make a list of which valuables you want, and are feasible, to take with you (laptops, jumpdrives, documents, jewelry, art, firearms, photographs, etc.) AND where they are located, because in the haste and panic of evacuation you could forget something.
~Coordinate an out-of-area emergency contact person for family members and close friends to call to check in with after a major storm. Everyone may not be at home when a disaster strikes, or you could be separated during an emergency evacuation. While your local power, phones and internet service may be out of commission for days, out-of-area people will likely retain services and thus be more accessible when you ger access to a working phone or internet service.
~Keep in mind that cell phone texting is often available even when calls cannot be made
~Check out the emergency mobile apps at the redcross.org website.

2. Preparations to make BEFORE a disaster occurs
~In anticipation of possible damage to your home, learn where to turn off the water main that supplies water to your house and the main electrical breaker for your home.
~Have a working fire extinguisher on the premises, plus hammer and nails, masking tape, duct tape, a tarp and plastic sheeting for quick home repairs.
~ If you have a generator, service it now as the manufacturer recommends, then start it up and let it run several minutes. Have a gas can on hand to be filled when a hurricane watch is issued. Store gas cans in a well-ventilated area outside the house.
~ If you have a land-line phone at home, keep an inexpensive traditional plug-in phone on hand because cordless land-line phones wont work during electrical outages and cell towers often are out of service.
~Have charcoal and lighter or a gas grill or outdoor butane burner ready for cooking. Make sure your butane bottles are full.
~If you have a deep freeze, save up several clean plastic milk or juice bottles of various sizes, and fill them with water and place as many as you can in spaces among the food in the freezer. (Simply remove them as you need the freezer space). Once the water in the bottles freezes, they will help keep food frozen if power goes out, and, as they thaw, can be used for extra drinking water.
~ Assemble an emergency evacuation box. (See separate list in #3).

waters3. Emergency evacuation boxes: Get two sturdy, waterproof containers/bins, preferably with clamp-on lids. Keep one packed year-round with food, water, 1st aid items, and other emergency supplies and ready to be placed in your vehicle in a hurry should you need to evacuate quickly due to a hurricane, tornado, flood or other emergency. If you gathered supplies for an emergency box last year, it’s time to replace your batteries, bottled water and canned goods with fresh items. Suggested supplies to pack ahead of time and keep in bin 1:
~A few days supply of water and non-perishable food (cereal bars, canned foods, crackers, canned drinks, etc.) And dont forget a manual can opener and pet food. Include plastic eating utensils, paper towels and paper plates and cups.
~Toiletries, including hand sanitizer, soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, baby wipes, toilet paper etc., and a first-aid kit and guide.
~A flashlight and a hand-crank or battery-powered radio, with extra batteries for all devices
~Any special items needed for infants, elderly or disabled family members.
In bin #2, pack important items you have previously identified as needing to go with you if you evacuate. Pack which items you feasibly can ahead of time, and when bad weather threatens, get other items ready and at hand:
~A list of prescriptions with drugstores and doctors names and phone numbers, as well as health records for your pets.
~Copies of important documents, including birth certificates, social security cards, marriage certificates, military service records, etc., and copies of policies for homeowners, flood, auto and life insurance. Originals of all documents should be in a safe-deposit box (rent a high box).
~If you have photos that survived the flood, start now to scan at least your most precious photos and store them on a jumpdrive you can easily bring with you. Once scanned, you can store backup digital copies of photos and documents in “the cloud” by emailing them to yourself as attachments.
~A list of customer service phone numbers for your bank, credit cards and other creditors, utilities and other monthly bills.
~At least one change of clothes for everyone, including a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, underwear, sox, rain gear and sturdy footwear.
~An extra set of keys for your home and autos.
~A few books or magazines, a deck of cards and simple toys and games (with few pieces) for children.

4. Do this when a hurricane watch or flood watch is issued for your area:
~ Fill up your vehicles gas tanks, and a gas can for a generator if you have one.
~Get cash, preferably in small bills because banks and ATMs may not be available for extended periods if there are electrical outages.
~Get and keep your cell phone and laptop or tablet fully charged, and take them and their chargers with you if you evacuate, including an adaptor to charge your laptop and other devices in your auto.
~Refill prescription medicines if needed and place them in a plastic zip bag you can grab in a hurry. Make sure you have health insurance cards for all family members.
~Purchase a few bags of ice for a cooler and store in your freezer until such time as you may evacuate.
~Stow away lawn chairs and other outdoor items that could float or be blown away.

5. When a hurricane or flood warning is issued for our area:
~Pack your medicines and previously identified valuables (laptop and charger, jewelry, firearms,etc.) in your 2nd bin, and place both evacuation bins in your vehicle and be ready to leave quickly if it becomes necessary.
~Put ice in your cooler and the cooler in the vehicle.
~Throw in some pillows and blankets or sleeping bags.
~Remind family and close friends of your evacuation plans and your post-storm contact plans.
~If you are advised to evacuate by authorities, you should consider doing so to do so immediately, and take your filled evacuation bins with you.
~If you evacuate, turn off the water supply to the house and turn off air conditioners and most other electrical devices.
~ In making the decision to leave or stay, it is better to leave early than too late.

If there is a tornado watch or warning pending…
You should make a plan in advance for a tornado also. Decide ahead of time where you and your family will go if a tornado warning is issued. Choose an interior room with few or no windows or a closet.
Tornadoes usually only develop in the presence of severe thunderstorms, so lightning, heavy rain, and hail should put you on guard. In addition, watch out for the following:
• Darkening skies, particularly if the sky appears a sickly greenish color (indicating hail) or an orange-y color (dust being blown around by high winds)
• Strong, persistent rotation of the cloud base
• Very calm and quiet conditions during or right after a thunderstorm
• A rumble or roar that sounds like continuous thunder or, sometimes, a train or jet
• Whirling debris near the ground, even if you don’t see a funnel cloud.
• Blue-green or white flashes at ground level in the distance at night – a sign of power lines being snapped by high winds
A tornado watch is issued when a powerful supercell (storms that form tornadoes ) is in the area and has a chance of creating a significant tornado or starting a tornado outbreak.
If you are in a mobile home, you should seek more secure shelter as soon as a watch is issued; if you wait until it escalates to a warning it may be too late to leave.
If you are in a sturdy house or building, stay alert for further notices in case a tornado warning is issued. Have your cell phone (make sure it is fully charged) and radio (with fresh batteries) at hand.
A tornado warning indicates that a tornado has been seen in your area or that radar indicates the presence of a tornado. If a warning is issued or you observe threatening rotating clouds, go immediately to your chosen shelter room and bring your phone, radio, cushions, pillows and/or blankets and a jacket to protect your skin from flying debris. Cover your head and eyes with a blanket or another jacket. Do not go out of the safe room until the radio or weather app says the warning has been removed for your area.
If you are in a car, attempt to drive to the nearest shelter going away from the storm. If that’s not possible, stay in your car, keep your seatbelt on, duck low and cover yourself with a blanket or jacket. `If you are in an open field, lie flat on the ground in a low spot and cover your head. Do not hide under a bridge or overpass.

When flood warnings are issued…
Most everyone in southeast Louisiana learned a lesson about waiting and watching rising river levels and thinking they could get out if the water started rising too high. In August 2016, the water came up so quickly and so forcefully that thousands of people couldn’t leave because the roads were rendered impassible before they could drive away. Anyone who flooded last year or came close to flooding – even though it’s been called a 100-year flood – should have their evacuation plans made ahead of time and be prepared to get out with their valuables at the first mention of a flood warning for their area.

 

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