Get a Hurricane Plan

Today is the last day of National Hurricane Preparedness Week.  It is also the last day of Florida Hurricane Preparedness Week.  The main goal of this week has been to urge individuals to take personal responsibility for their family’s hurricane preparedness.

During this past week, the Florida Division of Emergency Management, along with Federal, local, and private-sector partners, conducted simulated emergency response efforts and helped manage its yearly hurricane exercise.  The State Emergency Response Team tested its capability to conduct operations at a secondary site in case the Tallahassee Emergency Operations Center ever becomes inoperable due to a disaster.  Exercise participants traveled to the state’s alternate emergency coordination facility at Camp Blanding, FL to manage the simulated hurricane exercise.

Florida officials are taking hurricane preparedness seriously.  But this will be in vain unless individuals prepare as well.  A lot of us will go to home improvement stores to pick up needed items for this long Memorial Day weekend.  I encourage you to also take your hurricane supply list with you and add any missing items to your supply kit.

Hurricane Preparedness Workshop in Key West

There is not much media focus on National Hurricane Preparedness Week which is currently underway.  That is understandable given all the damage and loss of life associated with the tornadoes in mid sections of the country.  But there are hurricane preparedness activities going on in some of the vulnerable areas.  I participated in one such activity yesterday in Key West.

2011 Hurricane Preparedness Workshop speakers in Key West

Most of the participants at yesterday’s Hurricane Preparedness Workshop for the Florida Keys Tourism Industry posed for a group picture at the Harvey Government Center in Key West.  From left, front row, are Bill Becker, U.S. 1 Radio; Max Mayfield, WPLG-TV; Cammy Clark, The Miami Herald; and Bryan Norcross, The Weather Channel.  In the back row are Bill Read, National Hurricane Center Director; Jon Rizzo, Key West National Weather Service; Jodi Weinhoffer, Lodging Association of the Florida Keys and Key West; and Rich Phillips, CNN.   Photo by Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau.

Bill Read made a presentation on “Surge, wind and rain; why some people still don’t get it.”  The panel of media representatives discussed how media organizations outside of Monroe County cover tropical cyclone events in the Keys.  Additional speakers included Irene Toner, Monroe County Emergency Management Director, Diana Arteaga of the Florida Department of Financial Services, Cindy DeRocher of Fair Insurance Rates for Monroe, and Andy Newman, Tourist Development Council media relations director.  The conference was organized by the Lodging Association with support from the Monroe County Tourist Development Council.  
 
In my opinion, Monroe County tourism officials have been very proactive with visitors during hurricanes.  They understand that if the visitors are taken good care of during hurricane threats – even if it means evacuating them to the mainland – they will be more willing to return to the Keys another time.

What is the First Step in Your Hurricane Plan?

This is National Hurricane Preparedness Week and today’s topic is storm surge.  Historically, more people have died in a hurricane as a result of the storm surge than from any other hurricane hazard.  The first step in anyone’s hurricane plan is to find out if you live in one of the hurricane evacuation zones.  South Florida residents can find this out by downloading our Local 10 Hurricane Survival Guide at http://www.local10.com/download/2011/0324/27311836.pdf.

Last Tuesday, I participated in a Hurricane Preparedness meeting on Miami Beach along with Miami Beach Emergency Manager, George Navarro, and Miami-Dade County Emergency Management Director, Curt Sommerhoff.  The meeting had around 100 Miami Beach hotel owners and/or general managers in attendance, and had excellent presentations from the Tourism Director of the City of Miami Beach, Michael Aller, the President and CEO of the Greater Miami & The Beaches Hotel Association, Wendy Kallergis, the President & CEO of the Great Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, Bill Talbert, Warning Coordination Meteorologist from the Miami Weather Forecast Office, Rob Molleda, the Regional Director of Communications & Marketing for the South Florida region of the American Red Cross, Cynthia Gutierrez-White, and others.

Miami Beach Hurricane Preparedness Meeting panel
Miami Beach and other South Florida coastal areas as well as the Florida Keys are extremely vulnerable to storm surge.  I left this meeting feeling that Miami Beach is setting a good example for other coastal municipalities in having a good hurricane preparedness plan.  The representatives from the various hotels on Miami Beach understand their vulnerability to storm surge and understand that they are in a hurricane evacuation zone.  Once an evacuation is called for, Michael Aller even goes to every individual hotel to make sure they heed the evacuation order.  The attendees at this meeting understand that if the visitors to Miami Beach are treated well during a hurricane threat, they are more likely to return.  Bill Talbert has a seat at the table in the Miami-Dade County Emergency Operations Center during hurricanes and works very hard to make sure beach visitors can find nearby inland hotels to evacuate to outside of the storm surge zone.
 
I applaud the officials on Miami Beach for having created a good hurricane plan.  But let’s remember that New Orleans had a plan before Hurricane Katrina.  And Galveston had a plan before Hurricane Ike.  We just need to make sure that our plans can be executed.  That is good advice for all individuals living in hurricane vulnerable areas.

The Battle Against the Hurricane is Won Outside the Hurricane Season

National Hurricane Preparedness Week poster

One of the things I was proud of while serving as Director of the National Hurricane Center (NHC) was the establishment of the National Hurricane Preparedness Week.  I’m glad to see this has been continued by the NHC.  This year, Hurricane Preparedness Week extends from today through Saturday (May 22-28).  The idea is to get people preparing for the upcoming hurricane season before a tropical cyclone threat occurs.  This year, some neat Public Service Announcements can be seen on YouTube.  A different PSA can be viewed each day at http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/outreach/prepared_week.shtml.

A different topic is covered each day of the week.  Today’s topic covered some basics including the fact that the NOAA seasonal hurricane outlook, while interesting, cannot tell you where or when the hurricanes will occur.  The next three days cover storm surge, high winds, and tornadoes.  Thursday talks about the team effort involved in the hurricane program.  And the week ends with a focus on preparing a plan that is executable.

Don’t wait for the next hurricane to come knocking on your door before you start getting prepared.

Pacific Tsunami

The massive earthquake with preliminary magnitude 8.9 that occurred near the east coast of Honshu, Japan at 12:46 am EST has triggered a major tsunami.  This tsunami will eventually be felt over much of the Pacific and has the potential for large loss of life. 

Forecast of Pacific Tsunami propagation (NOAA)

The above graphic provided by NOAA shows the forecast travel times of the tsunami as it propagates out from the area of the earthquake.  You can see that much of the Pacific will feel at least some impact.

Tsunamis have similarities with hurricanes, but there are also significant differences.  The main thing in common is the tremendous rise in water level at the coastline.  While the storm surge is more like a dome of water that starts coming in gradually and then rises more quickly near the hurricane’s landfall, the tsunami is a series of long ocean waves.  Each individual wave crest can last 5 to 15 minutes or more and extensively flood coastal areas.  The danger can continue for many hours after the initial wave as subsequent waves arrive.  It is important to note that the first wave may not be the largest.  Tsunami waves efficiently wrap around islands and all shores are at risk no matter which dirrection they face.

See the animation at http://staff.washington.edu/liujuan/tsunami/20110311/20110311Houshu.mov to follow the tsunami as it moves across the Pacific.

The National Weather Service operates two Tsunami Warning Centers, the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center that provides guidance for all U.S. coastal states (except Hawaii) and the Richard H. Hagemeyer Pacific Tsunami Warning Center that provides guidance for Hawaii and countries in the Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, and Caribbean Sea.  Specific tsunamis warnings can be found at www.tsunami.gov and, for U.S. interests,currently include the Hawaiian Islands, portions of the U.S. west coast, and the American territories in the Pacific.

People in the tsunami warning areas should heed the advice of their local officials.  I often tell people in hurricane storm surge vulnerable areas to make friends in high places.  That advice applies to people told to evacuate from the tsunami as well.  People in the tsunami warning coastal areas should move inland to higher ground if told to do so by their local officials.

The Active 2010 Atlantic Hurricane Season

The seasonal hurricane forecasters get an attaboy this year for saying 2010 was going to be an active hurricane season in the Atlantic.  The graphic below shows the tracks of all the 2010 tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic, and it clearly depicts an active season.  Although many tropical cyclones formed in the deep tropics, several recurved over the open waters of the Atlantic well before nearing the U.S. mainland.

2010 Atlantic Track Chart

There were nineteen named storms this year.  Since records began in 1851, there have only been four other seasons with as many or more named storms.  There were 19 in 1887, 21 in 1933, 19 in 1995, and 28 in 2005.  Some storms were obviously missed in the old days, but since the age of aircraft reconnaissance (1944) there have only been two years with the same or greater number of named storms.

Twelve hurricanes occurred in 2010.  The historical record shows that only three seasons have had as many or more hurricanes:  1887 with 12, 1969 with 12, and 2005 with 15.  During the recon era, two of those seasons had as many or more hurricanes.

There were five major hurricanes during this season.  Some major hurricanes were obviously missed prior to the recon era.  Only seven seasons (1950, 1955, 1961, 1964, 1996, 2004, and 2005) have had more than five major hurricanes during the recon era.

Of course, it is not only about the numbers.  What really counts is where the tropical cyclones make landfall and the impacts on land.  As far as the United States is concerned, no hurricanes made landfall.  In fact, only one tropical storm (Bonnie) made landfall in the U.S. this year (Tropical Storm Hermine came close to making a landfall in the U.S. but officially made landfall just south of Brownsville, TX).  And the U.S. has now gone five consecutive years without a major hurricane landfall.  Since 1900, that has only happened two other times (1901-1905 and 1910-1914).  It should be noted that since 1900, the U.S. has never gone six consecutive years without a major hurricane landfall.

Heavy Rains from Tropical Storm Tomas Headed toward Haiti & Dominican Republic

NOAA GOES visible image from 10:45 am EDT Nov 4, 2010

The center of Tropical Storm Tomas is centered around 125 miles south-southeast of Kingston, Jamaica.  The above satellite image shows this center somewhat exposed and on the western edge of the heaviest thunderstorm activity.  The NHC is still forecasting Tomas to strengthen as the center heads in the general direction of the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti.  The NHC has consistently been saying “Regardless of the exact track and intensity of Tomas, the most significant threat of this tropical cyclone is heavy rainfall, which could produce flash flooding and life-threatening mud slides over Haiti and the Dominican Republic over the next couple of days.”

Recent Tropical Cyclone Impacts to Haiti

The above figure shows some of the recent loss of life in Haiti due to tropical cyclones.  It should be noted that the two largest death totals, over 3000 in 2004 and over 1100 in 1994, were the result of Tropical Storms at their closest point of approach to Haiti.  It will not take a hurricane or a direct hit to result in loss of life in Haiti given current conditions in that country.