Mayoral Musings: Hurricane Season

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Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly

With stronger and more frequent storms, now’s the time to prepare.

For those of us who may have missed it, June 1 marked the start of the Atlantic hurricane season.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2018 could be an above-average year with 10 to 16 named storms, five to nine hurricanes, and one to four major hurricanes. That said, Colorado State University differed slightly in its predictions with 14 named storms, six hurricanes, and perhaps two major hurricanes.

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A generation ago, we in South Jersey might have received this news with nothing more than a yawn and some may feel that way going into this hurricane season. But as Bob Dylan once said, “the times they are a-changin’.” What I mean to say is that the possibility of a major hurricane coming up the coast to our neck of the woods seems a lot more likely these days and what’s even more troubling is that the severity of these storms is growing worse.

In a piece by Bob Berwyn for Inside Climate News, analysis of the hurricanes that have happened since 1980 shows that the number of storms with winds above 124 mph (category 3) has doubled while the number of hurricanes with winds of 155 mph (category 5) has tripled. Because of these changes in frequency and severity, the piece goes on to quote Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann, who thinks we need to add a “category 6” to the scale as way to factor in stronger storms. Maybe he’s right.

The reason, according to the scientists, that we should fasten our seat belts and be ready is because the areas of the ocean where these storms build their strength, due to warmer ocean temps, are now to be found farther north toward the poles—meaning toward us. That potentially puts us in the bullseye with greater frequency for hurricanes riding up the coast.

The other fear, aside from strong winds, is what happened with Hurricane Harvey last year in and around Houston. If I recall correctly, the storm itself was not unusually destructive in terms of wind speed, but the darn thing stalled out and just sat there for days, dumping enormous amounts of rain and causing unbelievable flooding.

As we begin the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season, we do so knowing that ocean temps from south to north have warmed, which fuels stronger storms growing into monsters. We also know that the jet stream has changed, which means that we are vulnerable in ways we weren’t a couple of decades ago—hinted at by the deluge of rain we had a couple of weekends ago.

So are we ready? The first thing to consider is an emergency supply kit and this should be something that can be used whether we “shelter in place” or evacuate. This kit or “go bag,” should include basic such things as medications, flashlights, nonperishable food, a can opener, bottled water, a change of clothes, a battery-operated radio, batteries, cash, and waterproof storage of some type for vital documents, just to name a few. If you have children, it might mean formula or diapers, and with pets, it would mean extra food and water. Beyond just drinking water, there’s “flushing” water.

To plan in more detail, I would strongly encourage everyone to visit ready.gov/build-a-kit, because it has detailed information on preparedness in a whole range of areas. For example, for senior citizens, beyond daily medications, you have to consider things like oxygen, walkers, wheelchairs, and other equipment or supplies that may be part of a senior citizen’s daily existence. The same would be the case for someone with a disability.

Businesses need to have their own plans whether that includes emergency supplies at their respective facilities and places of business, a communications plan so that managers can communicate with employees, or plans for shutting down certain pieces of equipment, machinery, or entire systems in a safe and timely manner.

My point is that now is the time, while we’re not facing an imminent storm barreling up the coast, to think about what we’ll do and to make our plans and preparations accordingly. Once the weather people start talking storm tracks and storm surge, it gets that much harder.

Here in Bridgeton, I’ll be reviewing plans with our emergency management people as to what facilities would serve as shelters in the event evacuations are needed (i.e., Buckshutem School, Bridgeton High School, etc.) and what supplies might be available—all the while hoping we never need them.

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