That sounds like something one would expect to hear living in Florida, not Connecticut! The reality is that Connecticut has had its share of hurricanes. In fact, since 1954, eight hurricanes have struck our state. Notably, in just the past few years, we have felt the wrath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and Hurricane Irene in 2011. The frequency of hurricanes reaching Connecticut seems to be increasing. Global warming may be the culprit, but we’ll address that down the road. If the frequency of hurricanes impacting our state hasn’t peeked your interest, this might – the State of Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection’s (DESPP) Natural Disaster Plan considers a strong Category 3 hurricane the most probable, worst-case disaster scenario facing the state. DESPP supports that ominous scenario by pointing out that two of the worst disasters to affect Connecticut were the direct result of hurricanes – one in 1938, and the other in 1955!
Does this mean we need to panic – absolutely not! However, it does mean that we need to be aware of this threat, and prepare accordingly. The best way to do this is by having a good understanding of what hurricanes are, the potential risks, and secondary threats associated with them. Only after having a good understanding of these threats – in this case, a hurricane – can we adequately prepare for it. With hurricane season right around the corner, beginning preparations early really makes sense, rather than waiting until the weather center begins warning us all that a hurricane is expected to impact our state. Remember, as a community, we need to share the responsibility of being prepared, rather than assuming that others are going to take care of us – of everything. Everyone needs to be a part of the solution (something I noted back in February)!
The State of Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP) defines a hurricane as:
A big storm with thunder, lightning, and very strong winds. A big hurricane can have winds blowing 75 miles per hour or higher. Hurricane season in Connecticut is June 1st through November 30th. If there is a hurricane warning, take shelter right away, or evacuate if you are told to do so. You can learn more about what to do before and after a hurricane online at www.ct.gov/hurricane.
As you can see, DESPP provides a very basic, yet broad definition. Additionally, DESPP provides a link for those wishing to learn more about hurricanes. I would suggest that, at some point, you refer to the website previously mentioned for more information! Stressing a sense of urgency and a need to prepare, I would like to expand on DESPP’s definition a bit, and provide you with some detailed information relating to hurricanes. The better understanding you and your families have about hurricanes, and the threats and risks associated with them, the more likely you will be to prepare. As such, one of the first things you need to know is that often, hurricanes are associated with other hazards. These hazards include storm surges, heavy rainfall and inland flooding, high winds, rip currents, and tornados!
Storm Surges: This is the largest threat to life and loss of property! Storm surges occur from the storm’s winds causing an abnormal rise of water and are seen on the coastlines and large bodies of water, including lakes. These surges can reach 20 feet high – which does not include the normal tide, or the mean water level! Additionally, these storm surges can travel several miles inland, destroying or damaging everything in its path. For more information relating to storm surges I would encourage you to read more at the National Hurricane Center’s storm surge overview.
Heavy Rainfall and Inland Flooding: For people living inland, this is one of the major threats from a hurricane! Rapid water levels (flash flooding) can rise in excess of six inches. This heavy rainfall can affect rivers, lakes, streams, and other bodies of water, causing flooding that persists for several days after the storm. The amount of rainfall is greatly dependent on the speed and size of the storm, as well as the geography of the area. The National Weather Service (NWS) noted in a study that more deaths occur due to flooding than from any other severe weather-related hazard. The reason for this, in part, is because people underestimate the force and power of water! As a means to alert people to this serious threat, the NWS has started a campaign to help reduce the staggering loss of life entitled, Turn Around Don’t Drown®.
High Winds: Much of how we describe hurricanes is based on their sustained wind speed. In fact, the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is the standard rating system used. The scale is based on a rating of 1 to 5. A Category 1 represents a hurricane with the least intense wind speed, while a Category 5 represents the most intense wind speed. The 5 Categories also help to estimate potential property damage. For many emergency managers and town officials, the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is used to determine whether or not there is a need to shelter in place, or evacuate their citizens. Below are descriptions of the five Categories, courtesy of the National Weather Service & National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:
Category One Hurricane:
- Winds 74-95 mph (64-82 knots).
- Storm surge generally 4-5 ft above normal.
- Air pressure: 980+ mb.
- No real damage to building structures. Damage primarily to unanchored mobile homes, shrubbery, and trees. Some damage to poorly constructed signs. Also, some coastal road flooding and minor pier damage.
Category Two Hurricane:
- Winds 96-110 mph (83-95 knots).
- Storm surge generally 6-8 feet above normal.
- Air pressure: 965-979 mb.
- Some roofing material, door, and window damage of buildings. Considerable damage to shrubbery and trees with some trees blown down. Considerable damage to mobile homes, poorly constructed signs, and piers. Coastal and low-lying escape routes flood 2-4 hours before arrival of the hurricane center. Small craft in unprotected anchorages break moorings.
Category Three Hurricane – Connecticut’s Greatest Threat:
- Winds 111-130 mph (96-113 knots).
- Storm surge generally 9-12 ft above normal.
- Air pressure: 945-964 mb.
- Some structural damage to small residences and utility buildings with a minor amount of curtain wall failures. Damage to shrubbery and trees with foliage blown off trees and large tress blown down. Mobile homes and poorly constructed signs are destroyed. Low-lying escape routes are cut off by rising water 3-5 hours before arrival of the hurricane center. Flooding near the coast destroys smaller structures with larger structures damaged by battering of floating debris. Terrain continuously lower than 5 ft above mean sea level may be flooded inland 8 miles (13 km) or more. Evacuation of low-lying residences within several blocks of the shoreline may be required.
Category Four Hurricane:
- Winds 131-155 mph (114-135 knots).
- Storm surge generally 13-18 ft above normal.
- Air pressure: 920-944 mb.
- More extensive curtain wall failures with some complete roof structure failures on small residences. Shrubs, trees, and all signs are blown down. Complete destruction of mobile homes. Extensive damage to doors and windows. Low-lying escape routes may be cut off by rising water 3-5 hours before arrival of the hurricane center. Major damage to lower floors of structures near the shore. Terrain lower than 10 ft above sea level may be flooded requiring massive evacuation of residential areas as far inland as 6 miles (10 km).
Category Five Hurricane:
- Winds greater than 155 mph (135 knots).
- Storm surge generally greater than 18 ft above normal.
- Air pressure: less than 920 mb.
- Complete roof failure on many residences and industrial buildings. Some complete building failures with small utility buildings blown over or away. All shrubs, trees, and signs blown down. Complete destruction of mobile homes. Severe and extensive window and door damage. Low-lying escape routes are cut off by rising water 3-5 hours before arrival of the hurricane center. Major damage to lower floors of all structures located less than 15 ft above sea level and within 500 yards of the shoreline. Massive evacuation of residential areas on low ground within 5-10 miles (8-16 km) of the shoreline may be required.
Courtesy of the National Weather Service & National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Rip Currents: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration describe this phenomenon as channeled currents of water flowing away from the shore. Typically, rip currents are found on shorelines, through the surf zone, and past the line of the breaking waves.
Tornados: Believe it or not, tornados can manifest from hurricanes if conditions are right! The good news (if there is any) is that typically, tornadoes produced by hurricanes are relatively weak and short-lived, compared to tornados regularly seen in the Midwest! However, as with any tornado, they still pose a significant threat to life and property and should be taken seriously.
I know this is a great deal of information to grasp all at once, but I strongly encourage you to learn more about hurricanes. It is essential that you understand the potential threats associated with them, so that you can be prepared! One great way to plan and prepare for hurricane season is to begin early, and to do so in small, manageable steps. The American Red Cross (ARC) has developed a campaign as a means to put together a simple, yet effective, hurricane emergency kit – at a reasonable pace. This campaign is entitled, The 12 days of Hurricane Preparedness, and they offer a free comprehensive mobile hurricane app! Other great resources for you to check include the National Weather Service’s National Hurricane Center, and don’t forget to visit Connecticut’s emergency management site!
Now that you are aware of hurricanes and the potential threats associated with them, and once you have your emergency kits prepared, it’s time to cover a few more things: watches and warnings, and sheltering-in-place versus evacuating. Watches and warnings can be easily confused! As such, it is critical that you understand the difference between the two. When a meteorologist says there is a weather watch for a potential hurricane, it means that weather conditions are favorable for a hazard to occur! When a weather watch is given, pay close attention to weather conditions, and monitor the news for weather updates, as well as any instructions from your local officials. In addition, this is the time to discuss the emergency plan you previously developed with your family! When a weather warning is issued, it is time to act: a weather hazard is imminent! This means that it is either actually occurring, or will occur, momentarily. During a weather warning, you need to take immediate action! This means grabbing the emergency kit you previously prepared, and heading to safety – immediately! An easy way to remember the difference between a watch and a warning is by memorizing the following: “watch for the warning!”
Often, with hurricanes, families are required to either evacuate or shelter-in-place. When you hear one of these orders given, it is extremely important that you stay as calm as possible! You need to focus your attention on what your local officials are telling you – they are the best source of information related to evacuating or sheltering-in-place. In South Windsor, one of the most effective ways authorities use to relay an emergency message is through the Everbridge system. This notification system is free, and secure. In addition, only select town officials are authorized to use the system. Thus, should you receive a message from Everbridge, take it very seriously – your safety, and that of your family, may depend on it! You can monitor updates via your television, battery-powered radio, the Internet, and cell phones! Should South Windsor need to convey a message, they will most likely use more then one medium to reach you. When the town officials deliver a message, or provide directions, listen carefully, and comply quickly!
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) notes that, in general, sheltering-in-place is appropriate when conditions require that you seek immediate protection in your home, place of employment, school, or other location when a disaster strikes. People should take steps to prepare, in advance, in case local officials direct you to evacuate. This includes having a disaster supply kit that is portable and can be taken with you. If South Windsor’s town officials instruct you to evacuate to a specific location – do so, without delay! – Jay