By Jim Stefkovich, Meteorologist, Alabama Emergency Management Agency
CLANTON – Saturday, 9 am May 23, 2020
2020 is expected to be a very active season. There is a 60% chance of above-normal and only 10% chance of a below-normal season. Tropical Storm Arthur has already occurred off the southeast US coast, and conditions are favorable for a number of storms and hurricanes to form throughout the summer and early fall across the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.
This forecast is NOT a prediction of where landfall nor what impacts might occur. As said many times in the past, it only takes one storm to cause horrible consequences.
What is known is the Gulf of Mexico is the favored region for tropical storm and hurricane development during May – June and continuing into the fall.
There’s a number of myths I want to dispel in this blog. One is many people say, “It’s only a Category 1”. The category of a hurricane and the actual impacts are significantly different.
To explain, Tropical Storms and Category 1-5 Hurricanes are defined by wind speeds only. However, there are many other impacts such as storm surge near the coast with both flooding and tornadoes that can occur well inland affecting anyone in Alabama.
Water through flooding rains, not wind account for a majority of direct deaths, with less than 15% related to wind and tornadoes. More than half of the flooding deaths are vehicle related.
Another myth is, “I went through ‘X’ and was just fine. I’ll be fine this time”. “X” being the storm/hurricane that a person remembers. Each storm is different and should not be compared to one that happened in the past. Again, it’s about the impacts not the category, and every storm’s impacts are different.
When a tropical system is going to affect Alabama, the best thing you can do is to go to the National Weather Service (NWS) at https://weather.gov and click on the area of the state you live. You will be directed to the office that serves you and they will provide specific impact and safety information.
Here are a number of common risk perceptions gathered from people over the years:
“My house is elevated, I thought we would be just fine”
“It’s never flooded here before”
“They always turn and miss us”
“I thought these floods come once in 100 years”
“It’s just a tropical storm”
“I live a hundred miles from the coast, I didn’t expect this”
“This didn’t happen last time”
“I didn’t know it would be this bad, I’ll never stay again”
“This wasn’t that bad, I’ll never leave again”
Now is the time for you and your family to prepare. Go to https://www.ready.gov/hurricanes to learn more. Even if you already have a plan, you should take a second look and consider changes that should be made considering conditions caused by COVID-19. The availability of shelters, social distancing, and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) are just some of the things to consider.
Do not let the coronavirus prevent you from seeking shelter from a tornado or hurricane. If you must evacuate and a public shelter is your best option, take steps to ensure you follow local guidelines for social distancing and disease prevention. Be sure you have PPE ready in your go kit. It may not be provided at the shelter.
If you rely on public shelters and must evacuate to a neighboring town, county, or state, discuss sheltering with friends, or family. Practice disease prevention when sheltering with family or friends by using PPE. Determine if a shelter will be available during the COVID-19 pandemic. Look for sheltering information on official websites and social media accounts or by contacting the local or state emergency management agency. Alabama state and local EMA contact information can be found by clicking on the contact tab at https://ema.alabama.gov/ .
Shelter operations may look different from how they normally operate to adhere to local health orders. When possible, groups or families may be placed in individual rooms or in separate areas of the facility. The shelter facility should be large enough to provide a distance of at least 6 feet between cots of people from different households and have residents sleep head-to-toe.
Shelter operations should also accommodate individuals at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 which may include people 65 years or older, with serious underlying medical conditions including chronic lung disease, serious heart conditions, and diabetes, and other conditions.
Next week I’ll go over some National Hurricane Center (NHC) products and safety tips to help you become better prepared.
These guidelines are in accordance with guidance from the National Weather Service, Center for Disease Control and the American Meteorological Society.