Gulf Coast Hurricane Tracker

A single source reference on tropical weather predictions. With a traditional focus on the upper Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast we've maintained links to track all Atlantic Basin, Caribbean and eastern Pacific storm systems. We are now expanding our view to tropical storms throughout the world intending to be a comprehensive global storm tracking resource.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Hurricane Preparedness

National Hurricane Preparedness Week was May 25th through May 31st, the week before hurricane season started in the Atlantic and Western Pacific. (Hurricane season actually starts mid May in the Eastern Pacific). That was last week, but if you were like me and many others, the cooler than normal weather kept your mind off of tropical weather and thinking more of winter or spring than the scourge of summer.

So now we have a choice. We could so nothing and drown - or panic as we try to get out of town with a storm bearing down on us, or we can be prepared. Of course nobody knows if a tropical storm or hurricane will make landfall in our area, but that is why it is so important to be prepared. To be ready if a storm approaches.

The National Hurricane Center has an excellent presentation on Hurricane Preparedness which I will attempt to summarize here. I strongly recommend you look it over to learn more about these storms, learn more about the potential dangers and understand how to prepare and respond if necessary. When you are prepared, panic becomes a non option and the process works much better. When panic sets in, people get hurt or killed, tensions run high and the lack of preparation just adds to the misery of everyone involved.

Part I: The Basics

The ingredients for a hurricane include a pre-existing weather disturbance, warm tropical oceans, moisture, and relatively light winds aloft. If the right conditions persist long enough, they can combine to produce the violent winds, incredible waves, torrential rains, and floods we associate with this phenomenon.

Each year, an average of eleven tropical storms develop over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico. Many of these remain over the ocean and never impact the U.S. coastline. Six of these storms become hurricanes each year. In an average 3-year period, roughly five hurricanes strike the US coastline, killing approximately 50 to 100 people anywhere from Texas to Maine. Of these, two are typically "major" or "intense" hurricanes (a category 3 or higher storm on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale).


Part II: History

One good thing about a tropical system is usually, you can see it coming from a distance and get out of the way. The most deadly storms, though, are those which were not known to be as bad as they turned out to be such as the 1900 Storm in Galveston or those low intensity Tropical Storms that are so slow moving they cause several feet of flooding such as Tropical Storm Allison which hit Houston in 2001.

The listing of many of the worst storms throughout history illustrates some of the dangers that these storms pose. The worst case is discounting a storm because it is "just a tropical storm or a category 1 that causes a lot of flooding because it is slow moving. Likewise, you cannot evacuate every time it gets cloudy. Learning from past storms tracks and understanding how these storms form can help to understand the forecasts and what goes into the calls to evacuate or stay put.

Part III: Storm Surge

The majority of deaths are caused by the storm surge. In flat coastal areas, the surge can be excessive resulting in much flooding which can lead to drownings and can cause a greater level of destruction of structures along the shore.
Storm surge is simply water that is pushed toward the shore by the force of the winds swirling around the storm. This advancing surge combines with the normal tides to create the hurricane storm tide, which can increase the mean water level 15 feet or more. In addition, wind driven waves are superimposed on the storm tide. This rise in water level can cause severe flooding in coastal areas, particularly when the storm tide coincides with the normal high tides. Because much of the United States' densely populated Atlantic and Gulf Coast coastlines lie less than 10 feet above mean sea level, the danger from storm tides is tremendous.
Storm surge is the most dangerous effect of tropical storms. After Hurricane Rita showed the hazards of evacuating too many people from a given area (3 million left when only 1.2 live in the flood plain), the Texas Emergency Management adopted the plan, "Run from the water, Hide from the wind." Quite simply put, you can hunker down as long as you are on high ground but you cannot hide from the rising waters unless you leave.

Part IV: Marine Safety

Quite simply for us pleasure boaters...STAY OUT OF THE WATER WHEN A STORM APPROACHES!

That is the easiest rule to remember. For those who don't have that luxury - The Navy, commercial fishermen, tankers, freighters and the brave Coast Guard who are rescuing our sorry backsides when we didn't listen to the harbor master - there are tools to help predict and deal with an approaching storm. One of those tools - the Mariner's 1-2-3 Rule was a featured graphic on this site during last season.

Part V: High Winds:

As I said earlier, you can safely hide from the wind. The important thing is to secure ALL loose items preferably by bringing them inside. Any loose item will become a lethal missile in 110 MPH winds. A friend of mine came back to his house in Orange to find that the windows had shattered into shards that were embedded into the floor with obvious force.

The forces imparted by the winds increase exponentially with increasing speeds. So a Category 4 storm will have over 100 times the destructive force of a Category 1 storm. Tropical storm force winds can still be a hazard to anyone caught in them so evacuations are done such that everyone is out of the area before the tropical storm winds hit the area rather than waiting until the hurricane winds hit the area.

Because of the errors inherent in track predictions, this may sometimes result in an area being evacuated and the storm suddenly changes course. The evacuation area has to take into account the full possible storm track even if some people leave when no storm went in this area. This happened when we evacuated during Andrew in 1992. We left and fought the traffic and had a restless night in a hotel only to find out that the storm turned right and went into Louisiana. When I complained that we shouldn't have bothered to leave my wife asked if I'd rather we ended up as a statistic if the storm did what it was supposed to do. I think that sums it up - We need to follow the advice of the authorities because they have the best information and the training to make the most accurate predictions keeping in mind that nothing is exact.

Part VI: Tornadoes and Part VII: Inland Flooding

Flooding causes more deaths than anything else.
"In the 1970s, '80s, and '90s, inland flooding was responsible for more than half of the deaths associated with tropical cyclones in the United States."
Ed Rappaport
National Hurricane Center
Not only is inland flooding a concern but the intense NE quadrant of a storm often contains tornadoes which cause even more destruction.

Tornado Facts

  • When associated with hurricanes, tornadoes are not usually accompanied by hail or a lot of lightning, clues that citizens in other parts of the country watch for.

  • Tornado production can occur for days after landfall when the tropical cyclone remnants maintain an identifiable low pressure circulation.

  • They can also develop at any time of the day or night during landfall. However, by 12 hours after landfall, tornadoes tend to occur mainly during daytime hours.

What makes all of this worse is that the areas that are seeing the inland flooding and increased risk of tornado formation are the same areas where those of us evacuating are fleeing to. So just because you've evacuated, don't think you can let your guard down. Until the storm dissipates it is important to maintain an alert focus on the conditions around and respond appropriately.

And finally Forecasting:

The best thing you can do is READ THIS BLOG!! I think so anyway.

But seriously, find a resource that provides detailed information for your area. I try to provide as many links as practical along with the weather services listed in the sidebar. Read up on the forecasts and developing storms as they form. The Weather Channel provides hourly tropical weather forecasts 50 minutes after every hour. Stay aware especially as the season progresses and activity picks up during the summer months.

And heed the warnings of the local emergency officials. Their advice will provide the safest option yet. If something isn't perfect then complain afterwards and offer suggestions for improvement AFTER the fact. Don't refuse to evacuate only to be sorry later.

Being Prepared: Rosemary's Thoughts, 123beta, Maggie's Notebook, Adam's Blog, Right Truth, The Amboy Times, Leaning Straight Up, Democrat=Socialist, third world county, Woman Honor Thyself, McCain Blogs, DragonLady's World, The World According to Carl, Blue Star Chronicles, Pirate's Cove, The Pink Flamingo, Dumb Ox Daily News, CORSARI D'ITALIA, , and Right Voices, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe.

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