Memorial Day marks the unofficial start to summer, but another important season is just around the corner – the Atlantic Hurricane season. For six months, starting June 1, meteorological eyes will focus on the tropical waters of the Atlantic and Caribbean for signs of danger. The eastern Pacific season began May 15 and so far, all is quiet.
This week marks National Hurricane Awareness Week with the usual reminder tips about preparing usually combined with the mantra “It Only Takes One Storm”. As a nation, we’re unusually fixated on numbers and indices. While the past few seasons have been relatively quiet, I’m concerned that a rapidly-developing storm will catch many off-guard.
While the dramatic seemingly endless looping of a menacing monstrous swirl seem on TV and the web will likely cause many to panic and prepare, there are two sides to any hurricane season. Tropical storms are often perceived as “less threatening”, much the same way a severe thunderstorm is downplayed by the public compared to the scarier tornado. However, each tropical threat brings its own unique brand of danger.
Having lived half of my life along the upper Texas coast, I’ve seen the impact flooding form tropical storms cause. The slow-moving moisture leaden cousin of the hurricane can quickly inundate even those areas which are far from the coast. It really is all about speed and other factors too.
A simple rule of thumb to calculate the estimated amount of rain produced by a tropical system is to divide the forward speed of the storm into 100. So, a storm moving 10 miles an hour might produce 10 inches of rain, while one creeping at 5 miles and hour can deliver a nearly 20 inch deluge.
One of the worst tropical storms on record, and the only one to have its name retired is Allison, which struck the Houston-Galveston area repeatedly in early June of 2001. Recently, that same area has seen nearly as much rain from recent non-tropical flooding.
Which is worse, getting a direct hit from a Category three hurricane or having 4 feet of water in your home? Neither one is a great choice, but underscores the very real dramatic impact either tropical threat poses. And if a hurricane like 2008’s Ike or 1983’s Alicia were to strike the region, there would be more in the path of danger. Here’s an interesting factoid from the National Weather Service office:
There are twice as many people living in the Houston-Galveston area since the last major hurricane struck and nearly a million more who moved in since Ike.
Until you’ve been through a big storm, you never really know what to expect, so new residents should pat careful attention to the guides and suggestions outlining ways to prepare. This link, among others, is a good resource: http://bit.ly/HurrReady.
Even if you don’t live along the immediate coast, consider the possible impact of a storm that comes inland. While all eyes were focused on the tragedy the ensued during 2005’s Katrina, few realize that 300 miles from the Louisiana landfall, a record 16 tornadoes formed in north and central Georgia:
The outlook is for a “normal” hurricane season on the heels of the rapidly dwindling El Nino of the past few years. An expected 12 named storms are expected with 5 becoming hurricanes, two reaching major (category three status with winds over 110 mph). You may not realize that an out-of-season storm formed back in mid-January when Alex developed. The season usually peaks form mid-August to late September, but if you live along the coast, you should always be prepared.
WeatherCall delivers the most value for imminent severe weather and it should be a vital part of your hurricane kit. Landfalling storms spawn short-lived tornadoes so be sure you get this service, if you don’t already have it: try.weathercall.net/signupnow.