Hurricane preparedness means being ready for everyone, not just the big guys
Even though I no longer work in a newsroom, I still get emails from companies featuring topical articles – and ones that start with ominous paragraphs about hurricane season still give me goosebumps. .
Here are the opening lines of one I received the other day: “Over the past 150 years, Alabama has experienced a total of 25 hurricanes, which has caused concern among citizens. Hurricane season is from June to November, forcing citizens to be prepared for high winds, heavy rainfall, and possible power outages. “
I was scared when I read this, not because 25 is a lot, but because it is not enough. I haven’t counted the number of hurricanes that have hit the Gulf Coast of Alabama over the years, but I guess this PR company was only considering direct hits, so when you live in a state bordering the Gulf of Mexico, a hurricane can also have consequences when 1) it makes landfall within 200 miles or 2) it oscillates agonically near you on its way to another location.
So using my formula, I get the impression that Alabama has “seen a total of 25 hurricanes” in the past three or four years and seen at least 100 from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Additionally, PR officials apparently did not count tropical storms, which can do more damage than hurricanes. Ask the folks who lived in Houston in 2001 when Tropical Storm Allison swept through South Texas for several days, dumping over 40 inches of rain over Houston and the rest of Lone Star State before s ‘settle in Louisiana and cause more flooding there.
Allison, who never became a hurricane, is credited with 41 deaths.
That’s 40 more deaths than those caused in Alabama when Hurricane Frederic hit its coast in 1979, killing one person in Mobile County. And Frederick, remember, was a Category 4 hurricane.
Hurricane Katrina, which at one time was a Category 5 storm in the Gulf, was “only” a Category 3 when it struck southern Louisiana and the Mississippi coast and killed nearly 2,000 people. While it didn’t make landfall in Alabama, it also damaged or destroyed over 400 homes on Dauphin Island and flooded other parts of the state.
Since then, storms and hurricanes have struck, bypassed, or frightened Alabama residents on a regular basis, often multiple times in a single season. In this context, then, trying to scare us off with “a total of 25 hurricanes” is laughable.
The rest of the press release is relevant, however, as it emphasizes preparedness – not only on the part of first responders, but also on the part of coastal residents. And it’s a reminder that we need every year, for old and new arrivals alike.
Newcomers to the Gulf Coast tend to panic early and often during hurricane season, rushing to grocery and hardware stores for bottled water and plywood at the first mention of a tropical depression in the ‘Atlantic.
Bless their hearts, even after a few years in their new homes they find it hard to distinguish when to evacuate and when to stay put. Then, when a thunderstorm has passed, they are amazed at how long it takes for teams of electricians to restore power. After all, they’ve never lived in the unconditioned southern Gulf, where the combination of high heat and high humidity is brutal.
As for the elders who have lived on the coast for many decades, we know the drill and usually prepare for hurricanes appropriately, including purchasing an assortment of batteries and a few crates of water at the start of the season. . But we too can misjudge the tropical climate.
My most recent miscalculation was last year when Hurricane Sally made landfall in Alabama. He surprised some of us when he quickly stepped up and turned to the northeast. I hadn’t bought water or batteries before they hit Category 2, and had no idea where our flashlights were, which required a quick trip to town as the outer bands of the storm approach. Suffice it to say that every store that was still open was filled with people like me.
The lesson, then, is not that coastal residents should prepare for each hurricane as if it was going to be the next Katrina, Ivan or Camille, but that all tropical storms and hurricanes deserve careful respect for their destructive potential. .
Twenty-five or 125 hurricanes over decades or centuries is not the question. The point is, it’s the storm you ignore and don’t prepare for that could prove to be the most destructive to hit your hometown in your lifetime.
And it’s scarier than any press release could aim to be.
Frances Coleman is a former editor of the editorial page of the Mobile Press-Register. Email him at [email protected] and like it on Facebook at www.facebook.com/prfrances.