By Edwin Wriston
| July 11, 2019
The West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (WVDHSEM) is asking West Virginians to prepare for hurricane season and to understand the potential impacts tropical systems can have in West Virginia.
Tropical Storm Barry formed in the Gulf of Mexico Thursday, the second named tropical system of 2019. According to the National Hurricane Center (NHC), it is likely to become a hurricane by late Friday.
While most damages associated with hurricanes and tropical systems occur along shorelines, every area of West Virginia can see impacts from such systems as well.
“Over the years, West Virginia has seen its fair share of impacts due to hurricanes and tropical systems,” stated Mike Todorovich, Director WVDHSEM. “Hurricane Hazel in 1954 dumped more than 9” of rain in the state, Fran in 1996 caused major flooding in Pendleton and Hardy counties and the entire eastern panhandle, Isabel in 2003 did more than $20 million in damages statewide, and Hurricane/Super Storm Sandy in 2012 dumped more than 2’ of heavy, wet snow throughout the mountains of West Virginia causing widespread power outages and structural damages. While we do not bear the initial brunt of such systems, their residual impacts can be devastating and destructive too.”
Hurricanes are massive swirling storm systems that form over warm ocean waters and move toward land. Potential threats from hurricanes include powerful winds, heavy rainfall, storm surges, coastal and inland flooding, tornadoes, and landslides. Damages to public infrastructure and personal property can be intense, including damages to utility and transportation systems.
Hurricanes are rated in strength on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale from Category 1, with sustained wind speeds between 74-95 mph, to Category 5, with sustained winds of 157 mph or greater. The higher the category of the system, the greater potential damage the system can inflict. However, even tropical systems with wind speeds below 74 mph can cause extensive damages.
Each year, the Atlantic basin hurricane season begins on June 1 and continues through November 30. During that period, an average of 12 named storms develop, of which 6 become hurricanes, including on average 3 major hurricanes. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expects a “near normal” Atlantic hurricane season for 2019. The recently released NOAA outlook for 2019 anticipates nine to 15 named storms, of which four to eight will become hurricanes and two to four major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher).
NOAA forecasters say the outlook is based on competing climate factors, citing the weather pattern El Niño as a major player against other forces.
“The ongoing El Niño is expected to persist and suppress the intensity of the hurricane season,” the outlook states. “Countering El Niño is the expected combination of warmer-than-average sea-surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, and an enhanced west African monsoon, both of which favor increased hurricane activity.”
The outlook is for overall seasonal activity and not for landfalls, which are only predictable about one week prior to a storm reaching a coastline, according to NOAA.
“Preparing ahead of a disaster is the responsibility of all levels of government, the private sector, and the public,” said Daniel Kaniewski, Ph.D., FEMA deputy administrator for resilience. “It only takes one event to devastate a community so now is the time to prepare. Do you have cash on hand? Do you have adequate insurance, including flood insurance? Does your family have communication and evacuation plans? Are you able to get emergency weather alerts and warnings from local officials and other official sources?”
“West Virginia citizens can be assured that WVDHSEM, the West Virginia National Guard (WVNG), and all our state agencies stand ready to respond to the threats that hurricanes and tropical systems can bring,” stated Todorovich. “Our greatest priority is keeping our fellow West Virginians safe and being ready to respond and mobilize state assets when needed.”
“We are asking that every West Virginian take time to be prepared, be informed, and be ready for hurricane and tropical system risks to our state and local communities,” he added.
Each year NOAA and the National Hurricane Center (NHC) designates names for hurricanes and tropical systems. The first named storm of the 2019 season, Subtropical Storm Andrea, formed on May 20 and dissipated the following day. Names for the remainder of the 2019 season are Barry, Chantal, Dorian, Erin, Fernand, Gabrielle, Humberto, Imelda, Jerry, Karen, Lorenzo, Melissa, Nestor, Olga, Pablo, Rebekah, Sebastian, Tanya, Van, and Wendy.
NOAA offers a comprehensive guide on storm preparations. For further information on how to prepare for hurricanes and tropical systems, go to: https://www.wfm.noaa.gov/workplace/HurricanePrepGuide.pdf or https://www.ready.gov/hurricanes