Hurricane season (June 1-November 30) is fast approaching and it is time to get prepared. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) — two of the agencies that collaborate within an extended public-private network to monitor weather phenomena and assist those impacted — report that an average of “ten tropical storms develop over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico” each year and “six of these storms become hurricanes.” Furthermore:
In an average 3-year period, roughly five hurricanes strike the US coastline, killing approximately 50 to 100 people anywhere from Texas to Maine. Of these, two are typically “major” or “intense” hurricanes (a category 3 or higher storm on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale).
- Source: Hurricane Preparedness home page, accessed May 11, 2006
The result is devastation that takes numerous lives and causes billions in damages. Fortunately, as Max Mayfield, Director of the National Hurricane Center notes, “Preparation through education is less costly than learning through tragedy.”
Storms cannot be prevented, but initiatives such as National Hurricane Awareness Week and distribution of Emergency Preparedness & Safety Tips from Westchester Emergency Volunteer Reserves-Medical Reserve Corps (WEVR-MRC) were created because:
History teaches that a lack of hurricane awareness and preparation are common threads among all major hurricane disasters. By knowing your vulnerability and what actions you should take, you can reduce the effects of a hurricane disaster. This year Hurricane Preparedness Week is May 21-27, 2006. – Source: Hurricane Preparedness home page, accessed May 11, 2006
Throughout Hurricane Preparedness Week and hurricane season, the media will join forces with public and private sector efforts to ensure widespread hurricane awareness and safety. The goal is to educate the public by answering questions such as:
• How can one assess their vulnerability and take appropriate actions during hurricane season?
• What are the meanings of terms commonly associated with hurricanes: storm surge, high winds, tornadoes, tropical depression and flooding?
• What is a hurricane warning versus hurricane watch and what action should each one initiate?
• What should you pack into a disaster supply kit?
• How and why should you develop an emergency plan (WEVR-MRC Emergency Preparedness & Safety Tip #1) and establish an OUT-OF-STATE emergency contact (WEVR-MRC Emergency Preparedness & Safety Tip #2)?
An important public service announcement is WEVR-MRC’s Emergency Preparedness & Safety Tip #5 HURRICANE AWARENESS AND SAFETY. It will broadcast on the May 24 Lisa Tolliver Show at 1:30-2:00 p.m. during National Hurricane Week on New York Radio WVOX AM 1460. It will also be posted online at the Emergency Preparedness & Safety Tips blog. The tips, which could make the difference between life and death in the event of an emergency or disaster, are authored by Marianne Partridge, WEVR-MRC Program Manager at the Volunteer Center of the United Way. To learn how to join WEVR-MRC or to contact the organization, you can call The Volunteer Center at 866-VOL-CALL or visit volunteer-center.org or westchestergov.com.
Here are some facts that put WEVR-MRC’s Hurricane Awareness & Safety Tips in proper perspective:
• Yesterday’s NOAA homepage headline read: NOAA PREDICTS VERY ACTIVE 2006 NORTH ATLANTIC HURRICANE SEASON: Residents in Hurricane Prone Areas Urged to Make Preparations
• NOAA The number of severe storms has significantly increased worldwide since 1969. The most destructive hurricanes – category 4 or 5 – have nearly doubled in number over the last 35 years from 10 a year, on average, in the 1970s, to an average of 18 a year since 1990. – Sources: studies funded by the National Science Foundation and published in Nature and Science magazines. The most recent studies were conducted by researchers at the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Institute of Technology and by the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
• The wind speed of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes is 131 miles per hour (mph) or faster.
• Hurricane season 2005 was the worst on record, both in terms of number and severity of storms.
• On September 23, 2005 PBS Online Newshour addressed two of the most prominently reported storms in: “Hurricanes Mark Unusual Spike in Already Active Storm Cycle.” Here are excerpts:
Hurricane Katrina slammed ashore at the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf coast on Aug. 29 as a Category 4 storm with 140 mph winds, killing at least 1,036 people and triggering a monumental relief effort.
Hurricane Rita, which followed Katrina by weeks, registered as the third strongest Atlantic Ocean storm in history — a Category 5 packing 175 mph winds — during its trek across the Gulf of Mexico before it lost some of its ferocity as it approached the Texas and southwestern Louisiana coast.
• Close on the heels of Katrina and Rita was Hurricane Wilma, cited by the Associated Press as, “The 21st storm in the worst Atlantic hurricane season on record,” and “the strongest hurricane to strike since 1950.”
Source: Associated Press. October 25, 2005. “Millions begin recovery in Wilma’s aftermath: Damage estimates in Florida range up to $10 billion.” Accessible at MSNBC.com.
• The battering of the Atlantic Basin by that terrible trio of category 5 storms set a stunning record in 2005. That fact, combined with other evidence of the increasing occurrences and intensity of storms, has prompted debates about the best ways to measure them.
• The issues were addressed by Ker Than in the LiveScience article, “Do we need a new way to rate hurricanes?” In short, some scientists recommend extending the Saffir-Simpson Scale to accommodate wind speeds of 176-196 mph (which would be category 6) and faster and calibrating the scale differently. Massachusetts Institute of Technology climatologist Kerry Emanuel suggests having “equal increments of either the wind speed squared or the wind speed cubed” and making the scale “continuous, so you can have a category 4.6 or 4.7, and [...] open-ended, so that the categories just keep going up.” Emanuel and other scientists also recommend expanding the scope of the Saffir-Simpson Scale – which rates wind speed, flooding and storm surge – to include two additional measures associated with storm damage: rainfall and storm size.
• On the other side of the debate, Herbert Saffir defends the scale he co-created. His main argument against adding extending the Saffir-Simpson Scale for wind speeds exceeding 156 mph reflects his perspective as a consultant engineer, the fact that Category 5 hurricanes were relatively infrequent when he created it, and the scale’s original objectives. According to Than, “In 1967, the United Nations commissioned Saffir to study low-cost housing in regions of the world that were prone to tropical cyclones and hurricanes.”
Saffir shared his rationale with the 1999 NOAA National Weather Log:
If that extreme wind sustains itself for as much as six seconds on a building it’s going to cause rupturing damages that are serious no matter how well it’s engineered. So I think that it’s immaterial what will happen with winds stronger than 156 miles per hour. That’s the reason why we didn’t try to go any higher than that.
• LiveScience also published Saffir’s response to criticisms about the scope and calibration of his scale. “In a telephone interview,” Than wrote, “the 88-year-old co-creator of the scale, Herbert Saffir, defended it as simple and useful for the public.”
As simple as it is, I like the scale,” Saffir said today. “I don’t like to see it too complex.”
• Saffir’s response recalls an adage attributed to Abraham Lincoln which is often misquoted as follows, “You can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not please all of the people all of the time.” Saffir wisely noted that expanding the rating system to incorporate too many variables would reduce its usefulness to the public, who finds its simplicity easy to grasp. Moreover, he noted to LiveScience:
Every hurricane is different, so you really couldn’t categorize every type of hurricane as far as size and extent. As far as rainfall goes, we already have a scale for rainfall; it’s measured in inches and I think that’s really all that’s needed.
Those affected by storms measure the impacts more subjectively. For example, the short story “Rainbows After the Storm” documents my family’s encounter with Hurricane Camille in 1969, theretofore one of the worst hurricanes to hit America’s Atlantic coast. We lived in Freeport, on Long Island’s south shore. As Scott A. Mandia, Professor – Physical Sciences at the State University of New York at Suffolk County, observed in Long Island South Shore Hurricane Storm Surge Maps, “Category 1 hurricanes inundate just about all of the immediate south shore of the Island,” and, “A category 4 hurricane inundates the entire towns of” Freeport and its neighbors.
Here is a teaser from “Rainbows After the Storm“:
Escalating emergency alerts for the category five hurricane spooked Mom, who stockpiled candles and stood watch for Dad. Bob, Misty and I retreated below decks where the tempest seemed less intimidating.
Stay safe — be prepared! Please read and follow advice such as the WEVR-MRC Hurricane Awareness & Safety Tips. Also, check the forecast for your city, state, or zip code by visiting NOAA’s National Weather Service / National Hurricane Center / National Prediction Center.
Co-authored by Marianne Partridge – Program Director at Westchester Emergency Volunteer Reserves – Medical Reserve Corps (WEVR-MRC).