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Hurricane preparedness: What to know as the 2021 season begins

Damage caused by Tropical Storm Isaias in August 2020, at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. Hurricane season begins June 1, and members are encouraged to be prepared. (Courtesy photo)

Damage caused by Tropical Storm Isaias in August 2020, at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. Hurricane season begins June 1, and members are encouraged to be prepared. (Courtesy photo)

The Air Force Emergency Management notification signals alert personnel to pending or current emergency situations on the installation. (Air Force graphic)

The Air Force Emergency Management notification signals alert personnel to pending or current emergency situations on the installation. (Air Force graphic)

Hurricanes are classified based on wind speed, which can caused various levels of storm surge and damage. (Courtesy graphic)

Hurricanes are classified based on wind speed, which can caused various levels of storm surge and damage. (Courtesy graphic)

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. --

There have been four recorded Category 5 hurricanes that have made landfall in the United States:

Labor Day Hurricane – 1935
Hurricane Camille – 1969
Hurricane Andrew – 1992
Hurricane Michael – 2018

Luckily for Delaware, it is somewhat rare for tropical storms to strike the state directly with hurricane-force winds. Only two storms since 1851 have caused hurricane-force winds in the state. One of these storms, Hurricane Gloria, occurred in 1985 and caused substantial damage. The other, Hurricane Hazel, occurred in 1954. That storm killed four people and caused significant damage to the state as well. In 2011, Hurricane Irene skirted by the state but caused two fatalities, widespread flooding and damage to over 50 homes.

Often Delaware experiences the direct effects of a landfall by a North Atlantic tropical storm. Since 1749, about 111 tropical storms have affected the state, including 21 that passed directly over the state.

In August 2020, Delaware experienced the effects of Tropical Storm Isaias, which caused flooding and spawned several tornadoes that did significant damage to the local area. The tornadoes came within two miles of the installation.

Preparing for an unlikely disaster seems like a lot of pointless work. Many others have thought the same thing.

Delaware is not immune to hurricanes and the ruin they can bring. Take a few minutes out of your day to educate yourself and ensure you and your family are prepared for the absolute worst.

Hurricane season begins June 1 and runs through Nov. 30 each year. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has put out its forecast for 2021, predicting a busy Atlantic hurricane season. The outlook is predicting a 60% chance of an above-normal season, a 30% chance of a near-normal season and only a 10% chance of a below-normal season.

NOAA is forecasting the likelihood of 14-17 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which nine to 11 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including four to five major hurricanes that are at least Category 3 (winds of 111 mph or higher).

The average hurricane season usually has 12 named storms, of which six become hurricanes. Typically, only half of those hurricanes develop into major ones.
It’s important to know the hazards posed by a hurricane as well as how to properly prepare for dangerous tropical weather.

Hurricane Hazards:
The most obvious hazard associated with hurricanes is the strong winds. High winds will uproot large trees, damage structures and force sea levels to rise and push inland as much as 20 to 30 feet. The low pressure produced by the storm allows water levels to creep higher, and as the water builds up with nowhere to go, the “storm surge” can inundate low-lying areas and towns along the coast.

Floods from a storm surge normally last a short time, usually just a few hours, but can cause tremendous destruction. When a storm surge happens at high tide, the flooding is even worse. Storm surges cause the most deaths in associated storms.

After a hurricane lands on a coastal area, it may travel inland. As it moves inland, the storm will typically weaken, but it can still cause extensive damage. Heavy rains from the storm may cause additional flooding near rivers.

Hurricanes may also spawn tornadoes and airborne debris, which present additional hazards. In 2020, tornadoes spawned by Tropical Storm Isaias caused extensive damage in the state along a 29-mile path, the longest track recorded in history for our region. Costs of tornado damage are still being evaluated by the Delaware Emergency Management Agency and could exceed millions of dollars.

Preparing for a Hurricane:
Educate yourself, and “BE READY” before the storm arrives. Have a plan for what to do when the storm approaches and have a means to track the storm. Follow local news and weather updates. The base may also provide information on storm projections and actions individuals should take. Become familiar with the base mass notification systems, like AtHoc, giant voice, desktop messaging and local systems, such as the national Emergency Alert System and Delaware’s Emergency Notification System.

Personnel should know the meaning of the emergency notification signals. Also, get to know your emergency management representatives and learn more about hurricanes and other natural hazards from them.

Know where to go, and how to get there, in the event of an evacuation. Establish an assembly point for family members to meet if they become separated and choose one person everyone can contact with their whereabouts and statuses. Be familiar with your unit’s accountability processes as well.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the NOAA, the National Weather Service and other offices of emergency management recommend having a “to-go kit” or “bug-out bag” with at least three days’ worth of necessary supplies to help you weather the storm. Your kit may vary, but most experts recommend enough water, food, clothing, medicines, hygiene products and other items for 72 hours. There are many sources for lists of recommended items, but the Dover AFB Office of Emergency Management offers its own hurricane brochure with a list of items to consider. Being knowledgeable about actions before, during and after the storm can make all the difference in the world.

Coastal states all have evacuation routes with signage directing personnel to major highways that lead out and inland to help the population get away from the effects of the storm. It is critical to know where these routes are, along with any alternate means of evacuation. The state of Delaware is geographically unique within this region, as the peninsula is surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic Ocean and surrounding bays. More information about the evacuation routes for the state are found at https://deldot.gov/information/projects/tmt/evac_map.shtml

Additional information:
Hurricane preparedness this year must take into consideration how the coronavirus will influence evacuation and mass transit operations, such as how sheltering is managed. To that end, FEMA has provided the following planning strategy to prepare, respond and recover: “COVID-19 Pandemic Operational Guidance for the 2020 Hurricane Season.” This planning document can be downloaded and reviewed from this site: https://www.fema.gov/media-collection/covid-19-pandemic-operational-guidance-2020-hurricane-season

State resources include the DEMA site, which teaches how to plan and develop a kit, and Ready.gov.

In previous years, the Dover AFB Office of Emergency Management hosted an annual Hurricane Block Party in order to raise hurricane awareness and kick off preparations for hurricane season. This year’s event is scheduled for May 27, from 10 a.m. to 3p.m. at the Eagle Heights Community Center to provide information and events for hurricane preparedness. The Air Force “Be Ready” site also has lots of information on hurricanes and other potential hazards in our area. “Be Ready” resources are provided by the Dover AFB Office of Emergency Management with the help of unit emergency management representatives.

The Installation OEM is always available to assist with emergency management needs by calling 677-6212/6216, or emailing 436CES.CEX@us.af.mil.

BE PREPARED, BE READY!!!