Residents and authorities have vowed to be more prepared for hurricanes this year following the disasters of Katrina and Rita last season. Hurricane Preparedness Week is May 21-27.
By knowing your vulnerability and what actions you should take, you can reduce the effects of a hurricane disaster, according to LSU AgCenter disaster expert Pat Skinner.
Hurricane hazards come in many forms: storm surge, high winds, tornadoes and flooding.
"This means it is important for your family to have a plan that includes all of these hazards," Skinner says. She notes that the first and most important thing anyone should do when facing a hurricane threat is to use common sense. "But, it helps to keep a cool head if you spend some time planning how you will respond and what steps you can take to protect yourself."
Storm surge results from a combination of reduced atmospheric pressure and waves blown by winds swirling around the storm. Surge combined with normal tides can raise the mean water level 15 feet or more. Because much of the Gulf coastline is less than 10 feet above mean sea level, the danger from storm tides is tremendous.
In the northern hemisphere, where tropical storms circulate in a counter-clockwise direction, surge builds on the east side of the eye; coastal areas to the west side of the eye experience low water levels.
Hurricane winds can make debris such as signs, roofing material and small items left outside become flying missiles. High winds cause extensive damage to trees, towers and water and underground utility lines (from uprooted trees) and fallen poles.
High-rise buildings are also vulnerable to hurricane-force winds, particularly at the higher levels since wind speed tends to increase with height.
Hurricanes also can produce tornadoes that add to the storm's destructive power. Tornadoes are most likely to occur in the right-front quadrant of the hurricane. However, they are also often found elsewhere embedded in the rainbands, well away from the center of the hurricane. Studies have shown that more than half of the landfalling hurricanes produce at least one tornado.
Often the most deadly of all hurricane effects is inland flooding. Over the years more than half of U.S. hurricane casualties have been from floods. Worldwide, the figure is higher. And the storm’s intensity isn’t a predictor of rain. In fact, some of the greatest rainfall occurs from weaker storms that drift slowly or stall over an area.
"We experienced some of our worst flooding during Alison, which was only a Tropical Storm when it drenched Southwest Louisiana in June 2001," Skinner recalls.
The disaster expert advises reading the online publications "A South Louisiana Guide to Living with Hurricanes" and "There's a Hurricane Forming" in the publications section of the LSU AgCenter Web site, www.lsuagcenter.com, to learn more about hurricane preparedness and disaster recovery. For information about preventing wind and water damage to your home, go to the "My Home" section of www.LouisianaHouse.org.
Source: Pat Skinner (225) 578-6919, or Pskinner@agcenter.lsu.edu