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Hurricane season begins
by Bill Clough
Jun 06, 2011 | 889 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
For the 2011 hurricane season, which began Wednesday, Bee County Emergency Management Coordinator Dave Morgan is prepared.

On his desk is a four-inch binder with 600 pages that outline responsibilities and a timeline of who does what, when.

His office is so prepared, he even has a binder to handle an outbreak of the plague.

What worries him is that the county population isn’t as prepared, that it has been lulled into apathy.

“It’s been 41 years since a major hurricane hit Beeville (Celia in 1970). That’s a long time. People get complacent, people forget how bad things can be.”

Because the county is almost 60 miles from the shore, it doesn’t have to worry about a hurricane’s tidal surge. But wind and flooding are vital concerns.

The National Weather Service has a salient slogan about them: Shelter from the wind and run from the water.

His office is charged not only with having contingency plans for a hurricane but also getting information to the public.

Until last year, that involved using one newspaper, two radio stations and “a siren in the middle of town.”

Now, the city and county have a computerized notifying system almost in place, called “Blackboard Connect.”

The internet application allows Morgan to notify emergency personnel — and the public — via telephone, email, fax and cellphone text.

Knowing that internet access might be impossible during sustained hurricane-force winds, his office can get online via amateur radio operators who staff the office when the Emergency Operations Center in the Justice Center is activated, usually 120 hours before a storm is expected to make landfall.

But the notification system only can contact people contained in the EOC database.

“It’s not quite complete,” Morgan says. “But we hope to have it up and running by the end of the month so that people can register themselves online.”

City and county employees also can use the same system to communicate during a crisis.

Such a crisis has been forecast by the National Hurricane Center in Miami and the Colorado State University hurricane forecast team.

Both have classified the coming season as above normal.

The National Hurricane Center is predicting 12 to 18 storms large enough to earn a name. Of those, six to 10 could become hurricanes; of those, three to six may become major hurricanes of Category 3 or above.

The CSU team predicts 16 named storms, nine developing into hurricanes with five expected to become major.

“The United States was fortunate last year,” says Jane Lubchenco, who is the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Winds steered...all hurricanes away from our coasts. However, we can’t count on luck to get us through this season.”

Dr. William Gray of CSU, celebrating his 28th year of hurricane forecasting, expects this year’s season “will have roughly as much activity as was experienced in five similar years: 1951, 1981, 1989, 1996 and 2008.”

The chances of a major hurricane making landfall this year?

*East Coast — 48 percent

*Gulf Coast — 30 percent

The CSU team says there is a 61 percent chance of a major hurricane tracking into the Caribbean. The average is 42 percent. The forecasts follow one of the more severe outbreaks of tornado activity since the 1970s.

“The tornadoes that devastated the South and the large amount of flooding we’ve seen this spring should serve as a reminder that disasters can happen any time and anywhere,” warns FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate.

As if to punctuate his warning, on the day the season opened, the National Weather Service office in Corpus Christi issued an advisory concerning a low pressure area that passed over Florida from the Atlantic and was expected to reach Brownsville by Thursday evening.

Another system, off the coast of Nicaragua, appeared the next day. Although chances were slim of either system becoming a tropical storm, the rapidity in which the systems developed causes concern.

The Hurricane Center’s accuracy in predicting the track a storm will take continues to improve. It routinely issues forecast maps showing the expected position of a hurricane five days in advance.

But figuring out how intense a storm will be hasn’t kept pace.

What keeps meteorologists up at night is the prospect of a system close to shore rapidly developing into a major storm. That would reduce warning times to a matter of hours instead of days.

That emphasizes the need for Bee County residents to be prepared by having a plan ready in case of a hurricane’s approach.

Morgan stresses that numerous guidelines exist, including the National Hurricane Center’s website, www.nhc.noaa.gov and the National Weather Service in Corpus Christi, www.srh.noaa.gov/crp.

Names for this year’s storms are: Arlene, Bret, Cindy, Don, Emily, Franklin, Gert, Harvey, Irene, Jose, Katia, Lee, Maria, Nate, Ophelia, Philippe, Rina, Sean, Tammy, Vince and Whitney.

Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.
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