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Hurricane protocols change for season

POSTED: June 25, 2010 2:20 p.m.
With a new hurricane season hear, changes for how and when warnings are issued as well as new assessments of Liberty County’s hurricane-prone coastline will affect how residents prepare for storm-related circumstances. Hurricane season began earlier this month, with peak activity expected between September and October.
Recent geological and oceanographic events have led scientists to predict a slightly more active hurricane season than in 2009, said Mike Hodges, executive director for the Liberty County Emergency Management Agency.
“Volcano eruption, like the one that occurred in Iceland this year, has historically caused a more intense hurricane season and [subsequent] cooler winter in the southeast United States,” Hodges said.
Additionally, scientists are recording warmer-than-normal water temperatures off the west coast of Africa. Since warm, tropical waters fuel the development of hurricanes, this phenomenon is considered a contributor to the likelihood of a more active season.
The forecast for 2010, as predicted by Dr. William Gray, professor emeritus of atmospheric science at Colorado State University, suggests as many as 15 named storms will develop, with eight maturing to hurricane status and as many as four becoming major hurricanes.
Hodges said residents who believe Georgia’s location between Florida and the Carolinas helps buffer its coastline from hurricane damage are incorrect in their assumption. “A wave in water moves in a relatively straight line, then pushes into the middle. We’re in the middle,” he said. “A lot of people have believed being in the inset has protected us. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
As a result, Liberty County is vulnerable to the effects of storm surges and the flooding that can follow. A storm surge occurs when strong winds push water up above ordinary sea level, inundating adjacent land. Hodges said storm inundation maps have been changed to reflect changes in population and development.
When people move into an area, they drain their land, and the storm surge will follow that drain path back up into populated areas, Hodges said. “Development plays a big role; population plays a big role. As you build, [storm damage] affects the population more quickly.”
To help residents of hurricane-prone areas better prepare for storms, the National Hurricane Center is increasing lead times for tropical storm and hurricane watch/warnings, Hodges said.
“Watches and warnings that threaten coastal areas will be issued 12 hours earlier, tropical storm watches will be issued when conditions are possible along the coast within 48 hours, and tropical storm warnings will be issued when conditions are expected within 36 hours,” Hodges explained.
In the event of a mandatory evacuation ahead of a hurricane, county emergency personnel will use all available resources to notify residents, Hodges said. To ensure an evacuation goes as smoothly as possible, residents should first take the order seriously, he said. Emergency personnel have been talking to elected officials about the upcoming season and the need to be prepared, so “there’s a tremendous amount of knowledge going into it.”
The advance notice and abundance of information sources available to residents also means they have time to be ready to leave and have everything in place should an order be issued. “Be wise to your own needs. You know what you need more than anybody else — medication, personal items. Take what you need, not what you want,” Hodges said.
Individuals with special medical needs — those who cannot survive without medical care — should register with the public health department and be prepared to evacuate at least 72 hours before a storm is expected, Hodges said.
Elderly residents who do not have immediate access to transportation need to make arrangements with friends or relatives who do, to make sure they have an exit plan in place.
Pets should also be part of a family evacuation plan, he said. Rather than leave them behind to fend for themselves, care should be taken to include their needs while away from home and ensure they are permitted to stay at shelters or temporary lodging with the family.
Above all, residents should not try to ride out a storm. If, at the last minute they decide they need help getting out, emergency personnel may not be immediately available or be able to reach the individual, he said. “Don’t underestimate the likelihood of damage,” Hodges said.
National Hurricane Preparedness Week is May 23-29. Visit the National Hurricane Center Web site for preparedness information, at www.
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