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Hurricane season is here: Tips on surviving severe weather

By Shavonne Walker
shavonne.walker@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Last year’s Atlantic hurricane season produced some devastating storms with the landfall of both Hurricanes Florence and Michael impacting the Carolinas.

But, hurricane forecasters predict a 40% chance that this season will be near-normal.

Hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, but storms can form beyond that timeframe, said Chris Horne, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

We are just a week into hurricane season and according to Horne, no storms are on the immediate horizon. In addition, weather forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center say we can expect a likely range of nine to 15 named storms this season, of which four to eight are expected to become hurricanes.

NOAA forecasters maintain that two to four of those nine to 15 hurricanes are expected to become hurricanes of Category 3 or higher.

The hurricane wind scale receives a one to five rating or category, which is based on the maximum sustained winds. The higher the category, the greater the hurricane’s potential for property damage.

Horne said people tend to think hurricanes just affect those who live in and around coastal communities, but they can be dangerous and cause destruction inland. And Rowan saw some effects of both Florence and Michael.

“The further inland you are the less direct impact you will see from any given hurricane even though there is a potential for damaging wind like in Hugo or flooding like you all had in Florence,” Horne said.

Horne continued, saying it depends on how fast the hurricane is moving or whether it maintains it’s damaging wind or excessive rain.

What is a hurricane?

A hurricane is a type of tropical cyclone that forms over tropical or subtropical waters, Horne said. In general, a tropical cyclone is a rotating low-pressure weather system that has organized thunderstorms but no fronts.

Tropical cyclones with maximum sustained surface winds of less than 39 mph are classified as tropical depressions. Those with maximum sustained winds of 39 mph or higher are tropical storms. When a storm’s maximum sustained winds reach 74 mph, it reaches hurricane status.

Storms of the past

For many Rowan County residents, the most disastrous hurricane in memory was the Category 5 Hurricane Hugo of 1989, which caused $21 million in damage locally.

Hurricane Hugo began as a Category 5 before weakening to a Category 4, making landfall north of Charleston with winds of 135 to 140 mph.

At the time, Hugo was the strongest storm to strike the U.S. in 20 years and was then the nation’s costliest hurricane on record in terms of monetary losses — $14 billion in damage. Since that time, 2005’s Hurricane Katrina has since topped that list with $160 billion in damage.

In 1989, Some Rowan County residents were without power for weeks during Hurricane Hugo and an untold amount of trees destroyed utility lines and homes.

“Historically, the biggest storm was Hugo, now Florence and Michael are the new comparisons,” said Rowan County Chief Emergency Management Director Chris Soliz.

Hurricane Florence

In September 2018, Hurricane Florence deposited more than 11 inches of rain in Rowan County, which led to the evacuation of many residents, flooding in neighborhoods, downed trees and power outages.

Hurricane Florence was the first time in county history that the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was activated to level two, Soliz said. The EOC serves as the command and control center for coordinating and directing emergency activities during large-scale or multi-jurisdictional disaster situations or activities.

Shortly after Florence came, Hurricane Michael, which was shorter in duration, brought with it more rain, he said.

One of the best ways to endure a hurricane or other severe weather condition is to be prepared.

Preparedness

Soliz said the local emergency management office is in constant contact with the state emergency management office. The Rowan County office receives daily reports and briefings if there is something significant.

The office also receives details regarding severe weather — snow, ice, thunderstorms and road disasters.

“Our power outage response is the same as our hurricane response,” Soliz said.

If a disaster should strike Rowan County, Soliz said, his office talks with the N.C. Department of Transportation and local municipalities that may need street repair as well as Duke Energy.

It’s important that when significant storms or hurricanes strike that information is shared with the community, Soliz said.

The emergency management office can send a mass warning and send it via email, text messages or phone calls. These mass warnings can be sent to a general area that may be impacted or the entire county.

It’s also important during the midst of severe weather that his office gets the message out through local news media, Soliz said.

He said recommendations relating to severe weather can be found on the county’s website via ReadyRowan.

However, Soliz offered a few quick tips — gather a bag or box to hold bottled water, non-perishable food items, clothing, medications, important documents like insurance policies or financial paperwork.

He recommends residents have enough supplies prepared so that they can withstand whatever the storm throws at them for at least 72 hours. That means having food, water, medications and clothing, Soliz said. He advises families to create a plan in advance of severe weather.

Storm updates

Soliz said officials at times rely on citizen input when severe weather strikes, including storm damage.

He said Rowan County is working constantly trying to improve its systems.

“We worked with the state to increase the number of flood gauges to get more information on water levels. This keeps tabs on risks in the area,” Soliz said.

The county has a mass communication warning system that allows the operations center to pinpoint certain areas and send information via cell through its CodeRed application.

For more information about hurricane preparedness or to sign up for disaster alerts visit rowancountync.gov/206/ReadyROWAN.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

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