Spot.IM Contributor

Sep 12, 20183m read

Real Danger: Preparing for Hurricane Florence

By Ben Szurek

One year ago, the topic of hurricanes dominated national news as massive storm systems hit parts of Texas and the Caribbean, costing lives and leaving many cities immobilized. At the present moment, hurricanes have spiraled back to the center of attention due to a new collection of storms brewing off the East Coast. Chief among these is Hurricane Florence: a Category 4 (possibly Category 5) hurricane projected to land in the Carolinas on Thursday, bringing with it over 100 mph winds and rainfall as high as 35 inches in some places.

North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia – the states in the crosshairs of the storm – have all declared states of emergency in advance of the high power storm. Yesterday, President Trump reiterated that designation. The inbound hurricane poses a novel threat to these states, which normally avoid the worst extremes of hurricane season. As The Weather Channel’s Stu Ostro reports, only four Category 4 hurricanes have landed north of Florida since 1851. Hurricane Florence, currently designated as a Category 4 with potential to become a Category 5, will raise that number by one. Coastal areas in the Carolinas have already evacuated; inland residents, meanwhile, have been advised to prepare for the worst as well.

Given the high speeds of wind with the hurricane, coastal areas where Florence will make landfall stand in the greatest danger – hence the proactive evacuation. Moreover, those areas will also bear the brunt of the resulting storm surge: powerful waves advancing well past the normal water line, heedless of houses, roads, or people in their path. The areas beyond the reach of the storm surge remain in danger as well. Hurricane winds will carry past the coast, bringing with them heavy rainfall that may lead to significant flooding as far west as the Appalachian Mountains.

In last year’s Hurricane Harvey, which claimed 75 lives in Texas (mostly Houston) and left many without homes until this very moment, flooding proved to be the most catastrophic component of the storm. The same may be true of Hurricane Florence, given that the storm is predicted to linger over the Carolinas after initial impact, dumping rain well beyond the capacity of local watersheds. North Carolina has already seen an above average rainfall for the year, making rivers and streams more conducive to flooding. Just a few years ago, a series of floods wreaked havoc on Columbia, South Carolina in less extreme circumstances – a fact which may not reflect well on the state’s capacity for handling flood calamities.

While the prospect of flooding portends ill for the Carolinas and other states in the path of Florence, these states seem to have benefitted from advance knowledge of the storm, which is expected to touch down tomorrow. State authorities appear to be ready to implement disaster relief, and FEMA is already preparing to lend a hand in the recovery. In addition, volunteer crews have arrived in Eastern North Carolina from states as far away as New Jersey to assist with flood rescue when the time comes. These facts, one would hope, will lessen the toll of Hurricane Florence in comparison to Hurricanes Harvey – whose scope seemed to exceed expectation – and Maria, which incapacitated Puerto Rico for months, resulting in the deaths of thousands of American citizens.

On a personal level, there are measures you can take to help protect yourself during an extreme storm like Florence. Courtesy of North Carolina Governor, Roy Cooper’s webpage:

– Build an emergency kit.

– Make a family communications plan.

– Know the routes you need to leave your home (evacuation routes). Locate your local emergency shelters.

– Closely watch/listen to the weather reports. Listen every hour as a storm nears.

– Put fuel in all vehicles and withdraw some cash from the bank. Gas stations and ATMs may be closed after a hurricane.

– If authorities ask you to leave, do so quickly.

There are also ways to safeguard your home (to the extent possible), and to prepare for future extreme storms.

As extreme storms like Florence and Harvey become more normalized, precautions such as these may become necessary for residents of states outside the normal hurricane zone. Residents and authorities of the Carolinas appear to be learning that lesson in real time. Hopefully, their preparations will render the storm a phenomenon rather than a catastrophe.

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