Preparation is key for hurricane season

Published 5:55 am Sunday, June 1, 2003

By Staff
Brian Giles
Preparation is the key.
It doesn't happen often. It has been almost 35 years since it happened the last time. It may or may not happen in my lifetime, but it will happen again. The best thing you can do is be prepared in case this is the year.
I am referring to a century storm, one that happens every hundred years or so. I recently read an article about Hurricane Camille and was amazed at the ferocity of the storm. Camille is the only category five hurricane on record to ever hit the U.S. mainland. A category five hurricane has wind in excess of 156 mph. Camille ravaged southern Mississippi in August of 1969. To this day Camille remains the strongest hurricane to strike the U.S. in modern history.
Today marks the beginning of the annual Hurricane season that runs through the end of November. Forecasters are predicting higher activity in the Atlantic basin this year with the possibility of 11 to 15 tropical storms, with six to nine hurricanes, and two to four classified as major hurricanes (category 3 or higher). Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have advised residents along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts to be prepared throughout the season.
Forecasters believe that the contributing factors to the above normal season are the existing multi-decadal patters; (lower vertical wind shear, a favorable African easterly jet, weaker trade winds, and warmer than normal Atlantic Ocean temperatures) combined with a 70 percent chance that La Nina conditions will develop during the summer and further reduce the vertical wind shear in the heart of the hurricane development region.
Here in Atmore the threat is not quite as great as it is in Mobile and Pensacola. The effects of a hurricane diminish greatly as you move further inland, however, our proximity to the Gulf does put us in an area that could see hurricane force winds from a major hurricane. Flooding rains and spin-off tornadoes would almost be a certainty.
One hurricane that probably stands out in the minds of the people of Atmore would be Hurricane Frederick. Frederick hit the Alabama Gulf Coast in September of 1979. This hurricane caused millions and millions of dollars of damage to property and crops in this county. Hurricane Fredrick packed a punch with winds of 130-mph when it came ashore. Frederick damaged hundreds of homes in Atmore. Most received minor damage, but some were damaged extensively.
If you were to compare the strength of Hurricane Frederick to that of Hurricane Camille there would be no comparison. Hurricane Camille had winds in access of 190 mph, with wind gusts in the 210 to 220-mph range and a storm surge that was 22-25 foot above mean tide. Camille's destruction has been compared to that of an atomic bomb. Portions of the Mississippi Gulf Coast seemed to just vanish. Camille was a monster and a rare meteorological phenomenon.
What would happen if a hurricane the magnitude of Camille were to hit the Alabama Gulf Coast today? With the development of the Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi Gulf Coast the property damage figures would be catastrophic.
The good news is that with current weather prediction systems and news media we have plenty of time to get out of the way of these storms. Today, human casualties due to hurricanes are generally low. In some cases, we have days to weeks to prepare.
There is a lot the people of Atmore can do to prepare for hurricanes. Here is my suggested list:
1. Know the lay of the land. Is your neighborhood or property prone to flooding?
2. Trim back dead wood from trees around your house.
3. Check for loose gutters and down spouts.
4. Stock up on canned food and bottled water.
5. Make sure that you have batteries for radio and flashlights.
6. Check supplies of special medicines or drugs.
7. If you live in a mobile home check your tie downs or make arrangements to stay with friends or relatives.
8. Have a plan. Know if you are going to stay or ride it out.
9. Have a plan for your pets (Most shelters will not take them).
10. During the storm stay in a central room of the house away from windows. Large hurricanes usually spawn many small tornadoes that can cause property damage.
11. Pay close attention to local weather reports and do what the experts say.
It is impossible to predict when and how strong the next hurricane to affect the Alabama-Florida Gulf Coast will be. The probability that Alabama will deal with some type of tropical system this season is pretty good. It is important to remember that it will eventually happen, if not this season, perhaps the next or the next.
Preparation is the key to keeping you and your family safe during any hurricane. Be prepared.
Brian Giles is publisher of The Atmore Advance.

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