By Jessica Hunt, who is a Montana native who has never experienced a hurricane. She spoke with Ben Terry who gave her advice on how to prepare for hurricane season. He also provided her with some resources to understand storms.
Q: When and who determines the need to evacuate when there is a hurricane?
A.Ben: Local parish government determines the need to evacuate. That’s why we always say it’s important to listen to governmental officials because they are going to make the determination to whether there’s an evacuation. You have Calcasieu Parish Homeland Security, there’s Dick Gemillion and they are going to work with officials like the National Weather Service. They have certain protocol and certain triggers that are used to determine when and if there should be an evacuation.
Q: What are some “triggers” officials use to determine the need for an evacuation?
A. Ben: The strength of a storm, the distance it is from making landfall, the amount of time before it will make landfall, if it is forecast to make a landfall, the track it is on and the intensity.
Q: What is a storm surge?
A. Ben: A storm surge is a combination of tide and a buildup of water that comes inland with the initial onset of the landfall of a hurricane. Think of it as a wall of water that comes in and inundates everything in its path. That’s where most of your deaths occur in a hurricane because of the flooding. It can wipe homes off their foundations near the coast and it is your greatest impact because of the power of water. of course we can have storm surge flooding all the way into Lake Charles because of our connection with the ship channel being connected to the Gulf of Mexico. And the size of the storm surge is based on the strength of the storm, varying from storm to storm.
Q: The National Hurricane Center has something new this year called ‘products’. What are they?
A: Ben: Beginning this hurricane season, there is a storm surge watch and a storm surge warning. It is put together based upon the modeling the center already has. They take a scenario of the hurricane size and they run the computer models through what is called a ‘Slosh Model.’ That gives them an idea of how high the water could rise along with that particular part of the coast that will be affected by the storm. That way they can take the information and issue the storm surge watches and the storm surge warnings. If a storm surge watch is issued, there is the possibility of a life threatening inundation from rising water moving inland from the shore within a specified area, generally within 48 hours. If a storm surge warning is issued, there is life threatening inundation of rising water moving inland from the shore within a specified area, generally about 36 hours before the impacts would occur.
Q: What impact will these products have?A.
A. Ben: Hopefully, these products, storm surge watch and storm surge warning, will make it more perceivable to the public. Right now the products are limited to just hurricane watch and hurricane warning. That means hurricane warnings tell you there are hurricane conditions expected, and the different kinds of hurricane conditions expected. This will hopefully give people more of a sense of impacts and it will make those impacts hit home, No two storms are alike and people get caught up on the categories. The categories are a wind scale and often times it has little to do with that. You can get little impacts based on a storm.
Q: How do we access these products?
A. Ben: For more information visit The National Hurricane Centers’ website.. www.nhc.noaa.gov
Q: I have never experienced a hurricane and I’ve also done no planning. Where should I start?
A. Ben: It is important to know where you live in relation to the coastline.
If you are a renter, make sure you have some sort of renters’ insurance plan and find out what it may or may not cover in the event of a storm. Check with your homeowner’s policy to see if it covers damage, such as flooding as a result of a tropical system. and a hurricane supply kit.
Q: What are some mistakes that people make with hurricane preparedness?A.
A. Ben: For one, not being prepared. Waiting till the last minute when a storm hits to pack a supply kit. Stand in line for water or stock up on basic necessities is the last thing you want to be thinking iff a hurricane is in the Gulf. You want to already have those basic needs met and then you can focus on fortifying your home, like boarding up your home. You need to buy the right kind of plywood because a lot of people buy the thin, quarter-inch plywood. that’s really not strong enough for boarding up your windows. You really need to get three-quarter inch or one inch plywood to put on your windows and door. Be on the safe side and don’t make that mistake.
Q: Is there anything else people should plan for?
A. Ben: Think about your pets if you evacuate. Where are you going to stay? Will the hotel allow animals?
Prepare to be away from your home for a long time if you do evacuate and if there is a lot of destruction. If you do come back home, is your home even able to be lived in? What if you have a big hole in your roof or you might not have electricity or water. People here were saying that they went without power for almost a month after Rita. It’s usually in the summer time so it’s going to be hot, and you won’t have air conditioning!
Q: One thing that surprised me when I heard about it was the problems with refrigerators. Can you tell me about that?
A. Ben: If you lose power after a couple of days everything spoils. It may be wise not to buy milk and maybe eat things that you’ve got in your refrigerator if you know you are going to be evacuating. During Rita there was a sense of urgency to get out. Ideally, you could take that food with you in a cooler. That’s just some of the things you will deal with after power damage.
Q: Which would you say is more devastating, a hurricane or a tornado?
A. Ben: They both are just as devastating in the fact that they can destroy your home and kill you. A tornado can go through a neighborhood and destroy half the neighborhood and leave half of it intact. A hurricane is damage on a wider scale and that’s where I think it is worse.
The difference is that you have a lot more time, three or four days, to get prepared for a hurricane. A tornado can come up almost out of the blue and you might have less than five minutes to get to a safe place.
Q What is the best thing to do if you’ve never been through a hurricane?
A. Ben: If you’ve never been through a hurricane, make a friend with someone who has. They’re going to be the best person to inform you on what they’ve been through. Talk to people who have been through Rita and Ike. Find out first hand from people who live in the area.