Monday, August 30, 2010

Earl is on the Way

If you live in North Carolina or Virginia, there's a good chance you're going to feel the force of Earl later this week. Earl is presently a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 135 miles per hour and higher gusts. The storm is over 400 miles wide!

Even if the eye of the storm stays off shore, hurricane force winds (sustained winds of 70mph or higher) extend outward from the eye up to 70 miles. Tropical storm force winds (39mph or higher) extend up to 200 miles from the eye.

The current track, always subject to change by a few degrees, brings the eye fairly close to the North Carolina coast. East coast residents should expect wind, rain, storm surge, and flooding. Be prepared for power outages. Pick up potential flying objects from your yard. Keep a close eye on the forecast tracks in case anything changes.

Be safe.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Earl Moves West, Where Next?

Earl is a little more south and west today than the National Hurricane Center was predicting on Thursday. That the track is as accurate as it is, is a testament to the knowledge that forecasters have about how storms move and to the computer tools that crunch the data. They're doing a marvelous job.

However, weather forecasting is a system of educated guesses. The fact that the track was a little off is to be expected. That's why they have that big cone of uncertainty around the track. One little wobble, one slight deviation can send the storm hundreds of miles in a different direction.

If you live in the Caribbean Islands you should be ready to feel the storm's effects, and as Earl makes up his mind which way he's going next, I encourage anyone living on the Eastern Seaboard, particularly in the Carolinas or Virginia, to make preliminary preparations for Earl's passing.

Hopefully, you already did some prep work for Danielle and breathed a big sigh of relief when she stayed well east of U.S. shores. Think about the two or three days notice you might get if Earl ends up coming your way. What will you need to do during that time? What can you do now to save yourself time if the hurricane comes your way?

Many of my earlier posts on this blog offer suggestions for things to think about ahead of a natural disaster. You can also visit the links on my sidebar for checklists and tips for preparation.

Here are some ideas:

Before the storm:
Prepare your property for high winds and heavy rains.
Know if you need to evacuate or sandbag your home.
Be ready to prepare meals without electricity or running water.
Care for your family's health, and that includes the family pets.

After the storm:
Make temporary repairs.
File insurance claims.
Notify friends, family and co-workers of your situation.
Will you have to report for work? Or will you be living without a paycheck?

Please don't wait until the last minute to think things through.
You'll need to remain calm and take quick action if the storm turns your way.
Advance planning is the key.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Double Whammy in the Atlantic

If I lived on the island of Bermuda or in a coastal community on the Eastern Seaboard, I would buy some extra water and canned goods, make sure I had fresh batteries for the radio and flashlights, and keep a close eye on Hurricane Danielle.

Danielle is currently a category 2 hurricane and is expected to strengthen over the next couple of days.

The National Hurricane Center shows Danielle continuing to travel north in the Atlantic, with the eye passing to the east of Bermuda, but several computer models show the storm making a sharp turn to the west, which could take it into one of the mid-Atlantic states. And even if the storm's eye misses Bermuda, the island is still likely to get some high winds, heavy surf and flooding.

The effects of a hurricane can reach hundreds of miles from the eye. When Hurricanes Gustav and Ike crossed the Gulf in 2008, they were hundreds of miles from Northwest Florida's Gulf Coast, but low-lying areas and waterfront properties still experienced storm surge-related flooding.

What's the harm of stocking up on a few supplies now? You can still drink the water and eat the food, even if the storm doesn't hit and you don't lose power. You'll still use the batteries in your cameras, toys, or remote controls. If the storm does come your way, you'll be glad you hit the grocery store before the frenzy started, plus you'll gain time to do all the other prep needed before a hurricane strike.

While you're keeping an eye on Danielle, watch Tropical Storm Earl as well. The computer models are showing Earl following a similar track to Danielle, although none of them are showing Earl turning to the west. At least not yet.

I won't rest easy until it actually makes the northerly turn that everyone's predicting. Right now, it's aimed squarely towards the Gulf.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Tropical Depression 6 could get a name soon.

The last tropical low that was expected to get a name, never did gain that much strength. Good for us. Tropical depression 6, now swirling in the Atlantic, is expected to strengthen to a Tropical Storm in the next few hours and could be a hurricane by Monday. It's headed toward the general area of Bermuda, and no matter which way it goes, the island nation should be prepared for higher than normal tides and lots of strong waves.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

TS Danielle

Tropical Depression 5 has formed in the Gulf and is expected to become Tropical Storm Danielle by morning. The storm is forecast to cross over the Deepwater Horizon oil leak area and make landfall in Louisiana on Thursday. Don't know what this will mean for the capping and clean-up efforts. Folks on the coast can expect heavy waves and strong tides, possible flooding. Be safe, everyone.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Should You Evacuate?

I'll not soon forget the night I was working as a TV news producer, cranking out the 10pm newscast with a hurricane bearing down on the Gulf Coast. I answered the news hotline and a frantic woman was on the other end. She wanted someone to tell her what to do, where to go.

As a news producer, I gave people the facts, information that they could use to make a decision for themselves. It wasn't my place to tell this woman whether to stay or go or whether she should head north, east or west, just as I cannot write here what you should do in the event a hurricane is coming your way. I can tell you what to consider when you're making up your mind what to do.

Where are you?

If you're a few miles inland, not in a flood zone, in a well-built house, you can probably ride out the storm at home. You'll want to have at least three days worth of food and water for the humans and animals that share your life. Flashlights, a radio, and extra batteries. Fill up your car and get an extra can of gas in case it's a few days before you can fill up again. Extra gas if you have a generator. Refill your prescriptions if you need to, stock your first aid kit, and it's not a bad idea to have a couple of tarps and a rope on hand in case you have some damage. Board up your windows and pick up anything in your yard that could become a missile in 150mph winds. Be prepared, and you'll probably be just as safe as you would in the closest school.

Sometimes you have to go

If you live within a mile or two of the coast, you may be at risk of storm surge aka inland flooding. The best way I can describe storm surge is to tell you that it's the highest high tide you will ever experience. It is a wall of water, with waves on top, and it can literally sweep a house off its foundation.

The residents of Grande Lagoon subdivision in Pensacola, Florida, learned that from Hurricane Ivan. About 30 residents stayed in their waterfront homes during the storm, and several died.

Even if you don't live right on the coast, if you live in a flood zone, chances are you'll be dealing with high water. Rivers crest and drainage systems are quickly overtaxed, especially when branches and other debris start blowing around. [Photo: Flooding after Hurricane Floyd]

Rising flood waters not only put you at risk of drowning, it's an unsanitary situation that could lead to infection or disease.

Medical Concerns

Is anyone in your household dependent on electricity? If someone relies on an oxygen machine or other medical equipment, keep in mind that it's very rare not to lose power in a tropical storm. It's not impossible that your power will stay on, but I wouldn't count on it.

If it's really difficult for you to evacuate, call your power company NOW and talk to someone about their priorities in a massive outage. They may be able to put you on a "medically necessary" list, ensuring that your neighborhood is one of the first to be restored. Bear this in mind: power crews can't just rush in. Downed trees have to be cleared. New poles may have to be erected.

Keep in mind, too, that if something happens during the storm, an ambulance cannot get to you. Even after the storm passes, you may not be able to drive your own vehicle out. Can you survive in isolation for hours or days? Are you in physical condition to clear your own road if necessary?

These are the things you should think about now, not when the storm is a few hours away from landfall.

Where should you go?

For information on free public shelters in your area, call your county emergency management or public information office or contact the American Red Cross. Special needs shelters may be equipped to provide electricity when medically necessary, but that's the only thing that's provided. You need to bring with you: food; water; flashlights and radio; batteries; bedding; small toys, games or books; hand sanitizer or wipes; probably even toilet paper.

Websites such as provide checklists that you can print to make sure you have the essentials. Develop your own list, too: medications and personal comfort items, important documents (insurance, identification, deeds, etc.), and pet supplies.

What about Fluffy?

Bear in mind that most shelters don't accept pets, only trained helper animals. If you don't feel safe in your house, please don't leave your pets there, either locked up or running loose. Arrange to board them with your vet. Ask local emergency officials if there is a pet-friendly shelter in your area and encourage them to support one. If you're traveling out of the area, call ahead to find out which hotels and motels will accept pets. Be sure to explain that you're evacuating; some hotels will make exceptions during emergencies.

The Bottom Line

Only you can decide whether it's safe for you to stay in your home. You know the condition of your house, how well built it is, and whether the neighborhood is prone to flooding. You know the special needs of your family members and your own physical condition. Your decision may also be based on the strength of the approaching storm. As sturdy as our concrete block house is, my husband stayed here through Hurricane Ivan and he doesn't want to do it again!

Consider the factors carefully now and come up with a plan and a check list. You don't want to get 200 miles down the road, in the heavy traffic of an evacuation, and remember you left your medication at home or you forgot to turn off the gas. Your plan should cover every step of preparation:

Secure your home
Cover windows, pick up loose objects and lawn furniture
Unplug electronics that could be susceptible to power surges
If you're at risk of flooding, move items to upper shelves or the 2nd floor

Food, medicine and supplies
Important documents and photos of your home and belongings
Irreplaceable photographs, computer back-up drive

Don't Forget
Small games or toys to keep children occupied
Pets and supplies
Emergency phone contact list (don't rely on mobiles, in case battery dies)

If you wait until the storm is approaching or some other disaster strikes, you will forget something important. Prepare now, so that the thinking is done when you are calm and have plenty of time. When the storm is imminent, you'll be able to act quickly and efficiently, secure in the knowledge that you are doing what's best for your family.