Virginia Tech meteorology, emergency preparedness experts offer tips for start of hurricane season
With hurricane season beginning this week, Virginia Tech experts are advising people on the Atlantic coast and in the Gulf of Mexico to be prepared for potential storms and not get bogged down by forecast terminology.
"Virginia has not experienced a significant number of hurricanes in the past couple of years, but there is always the exception. In 2004, Virginia experienced five significant hurricanes, which produced 59 tornadoes," said Michael Martin, an extension specialist with Virginia Cooperative Extension, focusing in emergency response and preparedness.
"Just like every hurricane season, it only takes one storm," added Stephanie Zick, an assistant professor and tropical meteorologist in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.
What do forecasters currently expect for this year’s hurricane season?
"There are two primary official seasonal hurricane forecasts using slightly different methodologies, and this year the predictions conflict slightly. Based on the expectation of near-neutral to weak El Niño conditions and above-average sea surface temperatures, a near-average to slightly-above average Atlantic hurricane season can be expected."
"Regardless of the exact number of named storms and hurricanes, coastal residents along the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coasts should always be prepared for a landfalling hurricane. Furthermore, as shown with Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and the unnamed tropical low pressure system that brought flooding to Louisiana, these storms with tropical origins do not only impact the coast but can also bring flooding rains to locations further inland. When following the tropical weather forecast, pay close attention to the impacts rather than only the storm category."
Some people talk about global warming’s impact on an individual hurricane season. Is that scientifically sound?
"Climate is essentially the average weather, and generally speaking, climate conditions are determined by considering weather observations over a 30-year period. Therefore, it is difficult to assess the impact of global warming on a single storm or even a single hurricane season. Instead, it’s better to speak in the aggregate; for example, tropical storms that form have the potential to become more intense due to warmer sea surface temperatures that help to fuel these storms."
"That said, we have seen in recent years that storms of all kinds, including tropical storms, are dumping more rain at substantially higher rainfall rates. I recommend keeping this in mind when considering a tropical storm that might make landfall or move close to land. Both coastal and inland locations need to be prepared for impacts. Stay tuned to your local meteorologist, the National Weather Service, and the National Hurricane Center this hurricane season."
What should people do now to prepare for a hurricane specifically, or any other major weather event?
"Power outages are common during storms and can impact the ability to store and prepare food or to have access to potable water. Having an emergency kit which includes food and water supplies for at least three days is important. It is also important to make preparations for taking care of any household pets and making plans for sheltering in case of evacuation."
How do you promote ongoing preparedness, as opposed to stocking up just in time for a storm?
"Family communication plans are another important part of planning for an emergency. A written plan indicating where to meet and a primary person to contact should be given to each family member. In addition, having an emergency plan for the elderly and those family members with a disability or special medical situation must also be considered. Families should keep cars at least half filled with fuel because, in an emergency, fuel may not be available."
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