With the six-month-long hurricane season underway since June 1, the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center is stressing to the public the need to be ready ahead of the forecast.
Preparation is important to limiting damage and avoiding loss of life.
“Whether it’s a season of six or sixteen storms, minor or major systems, the same message applies: be ready,” said Sussex County EOC Director Joseph L. Thomas. “The recent tornadoes here in Sussex County were a prime example of how even an isolated incident, such as a thunderstorm, can cause devastation and disruption. We cannot stop Mother Nature, but we can certainly put up our best defense.”
Like other coastal communities from the Caribbean to Canada, Sussex County is susceptible to the effects of tropical weather, from flooding to high winds.
The 2018 hurricane season was above average in the Atlantic, with 15 named storms during the season, including eight hurricanes, two of which were major and wrought billions of dollars in damage — Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas, and the since-reclassified Category 5 Hurricane Michael in the Florida panhandle.
Sussex County had no ill effects from tropical weather, but the lack of storm activity here is no reason to rest easy, Thomas said, “I say it every season: All it takes is one. That’s why it’s essential for everyone to be prepared.”
For the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting a near-normal season, with nine to 15 named systems possible. Of those, four to eight could become hurricanes, with up to four possibly reaching Category 3 strength or higher, according to NOAA’s May 23 forecast. Forecasters expect warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic and a weak El Niño weather pattern — the warming of waters in the Pacific Ocean off South America — to shape the 2019 season. The El Niño pattern, when present, causes wind shearing in the Caribbean and Atlantic that often thwarts the development of tropical systems in the Atlantic basin. However, without a strong El Niño, and water temperatures at or above normal in the Atlantic, conditions in the Atlantic basin can be more favorable for tropical development.
An average Atlantic hurricane season sees 12 named storms, including six hurricanes, with three classified as major. Already, 2019 is off and running with the formation of Subtropical Storm Andrea in the first week of June. Thomas emphasized whatever 2019 holds, just one storm can destroy homes and take lives.
One step residents can take ahead of hurricane season is to create a Safety Profile for their household with the county’s free Smart911.com service to provide potentially critical, life-saving information up front to first responders. Profiles can contain as much or as little information as users want, including details about their properties, special medical conditions and family contacts.
To help make the storm season safer for everyone, there are several steps to take to make the home and family ready for hurricane season:
— Those who live in a flood-prone or other vulnerable area should be prepared to evacuate. Plan an evacuation route now. Emergency managers will notify the public, via the media, of what areas should evacuate and when. In the event of evacuation, take a storm kit. Take valuable and/or important papers. Secure the house by locking the windows and doors. Turn off all utilities (gas, water, electric, etc.). Notify a family member or someone close outside the evacuation area of the destination.
— Secure all outdoor items. Property owners also will need to secure their boats. Area residents should clear rain spouts and gutters and trim any trees that may pose a problem during high winds.
— Have a family disaster kit. This kit should include a three-day supply of water, of one gallon of water per person per day; nonperishable food and a manual can opener; a change of clothes and shoes for each person; prescription medicines; a blanket or sleeping bag and pillow for each person; personal hygiene items; a flashlight and extra batteries for each person; special needs items, such as formula and diapers for infants, as well as items needed for elderly or disabled family members; a portable radio with extra batteries; money, as during power outages, ATMs will not work; and fuel, as gas pumps are also affected by power outages.
— In the event of an approaching storm, travel during daylight hours. Do not wait until the last minute to make plans or to purchase gasoline and supplies. When a storm watch is issued, monitor the storm on the radio and television. An evacuation could take 24 to 36 hours prior to a storm’s onset.
— If ordered to evacuate and seek shelter elsewhere, follow the instructions of local emergency managers on where to go and when. Authorities will announce shelter locations in advance of their opening. Make provisions for pets, as many shelters will not accept animals.
— If not ordered to evacuate sheltering in the home, have a disaster kit ready. Keep important papers or store them in the highest, safest place in the home, and in a waterproof container. Even seeking shelter in place, homes should be secured by locking the doors and windows. Turn off all utilities (gas, water, electric, etc.). Monitor the storm by portable radio to keep up with the latest information. Stay indoors, in an inside room away from doors and windows.
— Use the phone sparingly. Make only essential calls and keep calls brief. Report emergencies to 911. When reporting emergencies, give dispatchers name and location, making sure to speak clearly and calmly. If using a mobile telephone, make sure it is charged and ready to use at all times. Remember that cell service may be interrupted during and after the storm.
Hurricanes and tropical storms can have devastating effects. In the event a hurricane affects our area, expect polluted water, limited communications, no electricity, overflowing or backed-up sewers, undermined foundations, beach erosion and heavy damage to homes and roadways.
Do not reenter the area until recommended to do so by local authorities. When reentering the area, be aware of possible hazards such as downed trees and power lines. Be aware of debris and water on roadways. Upon re-entry, have identification and important legal papers ready to show officials proof of residency. Continue to use emergency water supplies or boil water until notified that the drinking water is safe. Take precautions to prevent fires.
For more, visit sussexcountyde.gov/hurricane-information and weather.gov/wrn.