Sussex County emergency officials remind public to prepare for 2020 hurricane season
The six-month Atlantic hurricane season officially began June 1, and the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center reminds the public to be ready ahead of the forecast.
Like other coastal communities from the Caribbean to Canada, Sussex County is susceptible to the effects of tropical weather, from flooding to high winds.
The 2019 hurricane season was above average in the Atlantic, with 18 named storms during the season, including six hurricanes, three of which were major and caused billions of dollars in damage — Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas being the most devastating. Sussex County escaped the season with little effects from tropical weather, but the lack of storm activity here last year is no reason to ignore the potential this season, Thomas said.
“I know it sounds like a broken record, but every year I remind people that all it takes is one,” he said. “On top of the current health emergency, this is no time to let our guards down.”
For the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting an above-normal season, with 13 to 19 named systems possible. Of those, six to 10 could become hurricanes, with three to six possibly reaching Category 3 strength or higher, according to NOAA’s May 21 forecast. Forecasters expect warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic and the lack of an El Niño weather pattern — the warming of waters in the Pacific Ocean off South America — to shape the 2020 season. The El Niño pattern, when present, causes wind shearing in the Caribbean and Atlantic that often thwarts the development of tropical systems in the Atlantic basin. However, without a strong El Niño, and water temperatures at or above normal in the Atlantic, conditions in the Atlantic basin can be ripe for tropical development.
An average Atlantic hurricane season sees 12 named storms, including six hurricanes, with three classified as major. Already, 2020 has its first system with Tropical Storm Arthur, which formed earlier this week.
One step residents can take ahead of hurricane season is to create a Safety Profile for their household with the County’s free Smart911.com service to provide potentially critical, lifesaving information up front to first responders. Profiles can contain as much or as little information as users want, including details about their properties, special medical conditions and family contacts.
To help make the storm season safer for everyone, there are several steps to make homes and families ready for hurricane season:
— Those who live in a flood-prone or other vulnerable area should be prepared to evacuate. Plan evacuation routes now. Emergency managers will notify the public, via the media, of what areas should evacuate and when. In the event of evacuation, take a storm kit. Take valuable and/or important papers. Secure homes by locking the windows and doors. Turn off all utilities, including gas, water, electric, etc. Notify a family member or someone close outside the evacuation area of the destination.
— Secure all outdoor items. Property owners also will need to secure their boats. Area residents should clear rain spouts and gutters and trim any trees that may pose a problem during high winds.
— Have a family disaster kit, which should include a three-day supply of water, at least one gallon of water per person per day; non-perishable foods and a manual can opener; a change of clothes and shoes for each person; prescription medicines; a blanket or sleeping bag and pillow for each person; personal hygiene items; a flashlight and extra batteries for each person; and special needs items, such as formula and diapers for infants, as well as items needed for elderly or disabled family members; a portable radio with extra batteries; money, since ATMs will not work during power outages; and fuel, as gas pumps are also affected by power outages.
— In the event of an approaching storm, travel during daylight hours. Do not wait until the last minute to make plans or to purchase gasoline and supplies. When a storm watch is issued, monitor the storm on the radio and television. An evacuation could take 24 to 36 hours prior to a storm’s onset.
— If ordered to evacuate and seek shelter elsewhere, follow the instructions of local emergency managers on where to go and when. Authorities will announce shelter locations in advance of their opening, which could include multiple sites to accommodate larger populations amid social distancing guidance necessary in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Make provisions for pets, as many shelters will not accept animals.
— If not ordered to evacuate and sheltering in the home, have a disaster kit ready. Keep important papers close at hand or store them in the highest, safest place in the home, and in a waterproof container. Even if seeking shelter in place, secure the home by locking the doors and windows. Turn off all utilities, including gas, water, electric, etc. Monitor the storm by portable radio to keep up with the latest information. Stay indoors. Try to stay in an inside room away from doors and windows.
— Use phones sparingly. Make only essential calls and keep the calls brief. Report emergencies to 911. When reporting emergencies, callers should identify themselves and their location, making sure to speak clearly and calmly. Make sure mobile phones are charged and ready to use at all times. Remember, however, that cell service may be interrupted during and after the storm.
— Hurricanes and tropical storms can have devastating effects. In the event a hurricane affects the area, expect polluted water, limited communications, no electricity, overflowing or backed-up sewers, undermined foundations, beach erosion and heavy damage to homes and roadways.
— Do not re-enter the area until recommended to do so by local authorities. When reentering, be aware of possible hazards such as downed trees and power lines. Be aware of debris and water on roadways. Upon re-entry, have identification and important legal papers ready to show officials proof of residency. Continue to use emergency water supplies or boil water until notified that the drinking water is safe. Take precautions to prevent fires.
For more on preparing for hurricane season, including evacuation maps and preparedness brochures, visit sussexcountyde.gov/hurricane-information, or the NOAA Weather Ready Nation at weather.gov/wrn.