Hurricane season has officially begun, so area officials took time out of their busy schedules Tuesday morning to find out what to expect this year.
The 2012 hurricane briefing took place in the Emergency Operations Center, which was constructed in 2009 for the purpose of providing local leaders sanctuary from man-made or natural disasters and to execute action plans for citizens.
Jeffry Evans with the National Weather Service briefed attendees about the upcoming season, past hurricane patterns, potential area impacts, along with preparations and operating procedures in the event of an emergency situation.
Evans warned that because meteorologist predictions cannot determine exact location, severity or time period, local governments should be prepared for the worst.
“It’s been really quiet in the State of Florida since 2005,” he said. “If you want to say we’re overdue, then we’re certainly overdue for a hurricane in this region.” An area’s susceptibility to hurricanes is relative, according to Evans. His office is located at the Florida State University campus in Tallahassee and he said many people tell him they chose to live near the Florida capital because there are no hurricanes.
Displaying data from the last 160 years, however, Evans demonstrated that the area received dozens of storms in the 19th century and those conditions could return.
Another major point Evans wanted to convey was that hurricane season runs from June 1 to the end of November. He said one potentially fatal misconception people have is that hurricane season ends earlier, around the beginning of football season. Then he reminded the audience of the Thanksgiving arrival of Hurricane Kate in 1985 that killed 15 people and caused over $700 million in damage.
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale categorizes hurricanes as tropical cyclones with sustained wind speed of 74 mph and above. Tropical storms and tropical depressions can still have a major impact on the area due to excessive rain and wind conditions.
Recently, Tropical Storm Beryl brought about 12 to 15 inches of rain in portions of North Florida and South Georgia, which could have caused flooding issues had there not been a drought.
In 2008, the slow-moving rainmaking tropical storm Fay caused over $1 billion in damage to Interstate 10 in Florida.
The seasonal forecast for this year is an average of 10 tropical storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes. Comparatively, 2011 saw much higher estimates of 19 tropical storms, seven hurricanes and four major hurricanes.
Significant rainfall that occurs over sub-Saharan Africa contributes to the creation of tropical storms in the Atlantic Ocean.
Once a storm becomes a tropical storm, it is given a name. Atlantic Ocean storm names are based on six different alphabetic lists created by the National Hurricane Center.
So far in 2012, there have been storms named Alberto and Beryl. Evans expects to see storms named Joyce or Kirk this year. If there are enough storms in one year, officials use Greek alphabet characters to name subsequent storms.
While hurricane names were originally all female, since 1979, the lists alternate between male and female. When a major hurricane appears, the name is retired. Evans said he hopes they never have to retire a Greek alphabet-named storm.
One other misconception Evans tried to explain was the “cone of uncertainty,” which meteorologists use to describe a storm’s potential path of travel. He said some people believe that the entire area will be covered by the storm, but it is usually designed for possible impact. He also said that the storm has a large chance of impacting areas outside of the cone.
Current tropical storm information can be found online at www.nhc.noaa.gov and www.srh.noaa.gov/tlh/.
Updates are also available on NOAA-equipped radios and the Weather Channel.
Crystal Park-Buchanan, a representative from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, discussed the Ready Georgia program which is used to “educate and empower Georgia citizens to take care of themselves for at least three days after a disaster.”
She recommended using the website and establishing a plan of action for yourself and family, then downloading the iPhone or Android app for real-time updates and changes. Visit www.ready.ga.gov for a helpful materials checklist and more.
Ashley Tye, Lowndes County EMA director, informed local agency representatives on operating procedures and policies.
He asked that contact information be updated and to review procedures for each member to perform within designated roles. Storm drain systems should be cleaned in advance to eliminate reactionary response in the case of an emergency.
Government employees should document all preparatory and emergency work for possible reimbursement. This includes photos of damage and repairs.
The Lowndes County Emergency Operations Center is located at 250 Douglas St. To contact the Lowndes County Emergency Management Agency, call (229) 671-2790. For more information, or to register for CodeRed, log on to www.lowndescounty.com/.