“Hurricanes have killed more people in the last 50 years than any other natural cataclysm” according to MIT meteorology professor and tropical scientist Kerry Emanuel.
I’m an old Eagle Scout, and the motto: “Be Prepared” is as relevant today as ever. Get out in front of risk. Take steps (now) to avoid serious problems (later). That mindset certainly applies to the biggest, wildest, most terrifying storms on the planet. What have I learned tracking these fickle weather beasts over the course of 4 decades? Don’t count on the latest technology or the government to save you. At the end of the day NOAA, FEMA and the National Guard won’t protect you or your family. Take personal responsibility and have an action plan in place so you’re fully prepared for an inevitable parade of storms-with-names. Go on the offensive.
“My plan…is to create a plan.” Hurricane season is here. Do you live in Hurricane Alley? Coastal residents bear the brunt of hurricane winds and storm surge (sudden rise in water levels ahead of the eye), but severe flooding can impact homeowners hundreds of miles inland. In fact, in recent years inland flooding has surpassed storm surge as the biggest water-related killer.
From 2016 to 2018 83% of fatalities were water-related, but only 4% of these were due to storm surge. Since 2018 the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami estimates that half of all hurricane victims died in the vehicles. Only 6” of rapidly moving water can knock you off your feet; 2 feet of water can turn a car or truck into a boat, with tragic consequences.
We often get hung up on Saffir Simpson hurricane ratings. “Is it a Category 2 or a 4?” Experts remind us that all tropical systems, by definition, are dangerous and fickle. Any hurricane, tropical storm, tropical depression, and their remnants, can become life-threatening.
According to NHC, of the four Category 5 hurricanes that have struck the U.S. in recorded history, all were tropical storms just 72 hours before landfall.
Take hurricane preparedness seriously. Do you live in an evacuation area? Check your hazards risk with FEMA’s Map Portal. How significant is the flood risk for your zip code? Check FloodSmart.gov. If you live on a coastal barrier island how will you get inland? How will you reach family members — if you split up how will you find each other after the storm passes? Create a Family Emergency Plan with several weeks of food and water. Don’t count on electricity, fresh food and water or gasoline in the wake of a major hurricane. Have at least a week’s worth of non-perishable food and water on hand. You don’t have to become a doomsday prepper, but planning ahead will save you pain and aggravation. Check on neighbors to make sure they have a plan, and make sure pets have sufficient food and water.
Are your most important documents stored in a safe spot? Is your insurance premium paid up, and do you have the added peace of mind of additional flood insurance, since most homeowners’ insurance plans don’t cover water-related damage? If evacuation seems likely, have a ‘go-bag’ ready with clothing, extra cash and credit cards, essential medications and any documents you may need on the road.
Hurricane Checklist. The Red Cross has good hurricane checklist. Click here for details.
Meteorologist Dennis Feltgen is Communications and Public Affairs Officer for NOAA’s National Hurricane Center in Miami. The most common mistake he’s witnessed over the years? “People tend to prepare for an approaching hurricane based on their previous experience.”
Preparation is everything, according to Feltgen. “Hurricane evacuations in the U.S. are based on water, not wind. The first thing to do, before the season even begins, is to find out from your local emergency manager if you live in a hurricane evacuation zone. If so, decide well ahead of time where you would go if told to evacuate. You don’t need to travel hundreds of miles, only far enough to get out of the storm surge risk area. That could be just inland with a friend or relative, or to a shelter” he said.
Businesses are vulnerable — planning ahead becomes critical to protect assets, employees and customers. Does your company have business-interruption insurance, in case hurricane-related damage closes your doors for weeks — even months? “Apps only go so far. Companies that don’t subscribe to high-resolution weather data feeds are sleep-walking into a potential disaster” said AerisWeather co-founder and Chief Operating Officer, David Hubbard.
How can business prepare for a hurricane? Anticipate future needs and adjusting accordingly.
Once NHC establishes the cone of uncertainty (the most likely track) it’s possible to pre-position supplies (fresh water, canned goods, plywood, etc.) required to get communities back on their feet after the storm passes. Lever the very latest track/intensity forecasts for specific facilities to optimize inventory for items required before, during and after a hurricane strikes. Stock ATM’s along planned evacuation routes with additional cash. Automate the ordering of building supplies and que up contractors to harden facilities before a major storm hits, and make repairs when floodwaters subside. Make adjustments to supply chains and adjust transportation logistics to route shipments around high-impact areas in the direct path of the storm.
Gasoline is often in short supply after a hurricane. Create tasks for fueling depots to ensure sufficient capacity in the chaotic aftermath of a disruptive storm, and enough gas to run emergency generators. A hurricane’s storm surge is a battering ram of destructive water and debris. Subscribing to weather data API’s can help businesses move valuable inventory to higher ground, well in advance of the storm. Are resources in place to endure extended power outages? Assume the worst and hope for the best. But take the time to create an action plan that can lower risk, save your business — and even your life. “Like every homeowner, a business owner must have a hurricane plan in place before the season begins. This includes determining your risk to the specific impacts of wind and water, developing an evacuation plan, assembling disaster supplies, getting an insurance check-up, and strengthening their building” Feltgen explained.
Ultimately, hurricane survival depends on a myriad of factors, many beyond our control. Timely warnings from the National Hurricane Center are only part of the equation. The greatest unknown is human behavior. When local officials order mandatory evacuations will you listen — or take your chances riding out the storm? By the time you throw in the towel and attempt to flee the coast, it may be too late. Traffic jams, rising seas from sudden storm surge flooding escape routes could very well make any last-minute race inland impossible. When that critical moment arrives will you do the right thing?
Every hurricane is different. The weather often rhymes, but never repeats. Weather technology is truly remarkable — we can track these massive storms from land and space, days in advance of landfall, but these swirling super-storms rarely behave exactly as predicted. The extended outlook calls for a parade of hurricanes this year. How many will strike the USA? All it takes is one.
What keeps hurricane experts up at night? “What worries me the most is people not heeding the warnings and failing to do what is needed to protect themselves and their property until it is too late” NHC’s Dennis Feltgen said.
Are you ready for what comes next?
- Paul Douglas is co-author of “Caring for Creation: An Evangelical’s Guide to Climate Change and a Healthy Environment”, and co-founder and Chief Meteorologist at AerisWeather, located in the Twin Cities of Minnesota.