By Art Powell, U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety CenterSeptember 30, 2013
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (Sept. 30, 2013) - A churning hurricane approaching the coast gives residents the luxury of time to prepare; a tornado dropping from the sky with no notice doesn't.
Even though National Preparedness Month (September) is coming to an end, it's a great time to understand how making preparations helps prevent casualties and property damage from hurricanes and other disasters year-round.
Hurricanes are something coastal residents know all too well.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Hurricane Center, part of the National Weather Service, points to the basics on their website: "History teaches that a lack of hurricane awareness and preparation are common threads among all major hurricane disasters. By knowing your vulnerability and what actions you should take, you can reduce the effects of a hurricane disaster."
All coastal areas of the United States, from Brownsville, Texas, to Portland, Maine, are vulnerable to hurricanes, but hazards aren't confined to the coast.
"Impacts of flooding, wind and tornadoes can occur well inland from where the hurricane's center crosses the coastline," said Dennis Feltgen, NHC public affairs officer. "It's vital to have a personal hurricane plan before the season begins.
"While it may be difficult to prepare for something that may occur this year or next, those who have a hurricane plan in place and use it when the time comes will be a hurricane survivor rather than a hurricane victim."
Preparedness actions are very detailed for military installations vulnerable to hurricanes.
During severe weather, preparing the Army's flight training post is top priority for Operating Location C, 18th Weather Squadron, Fort Rucker Weather Operations, Fort Rucker, Ala.
"When a hurricane is forecast to significantly impact Fort Rucker, we spring into action and remain in constant contact with the installation operations center and provide post leadership the information they need to make decisions in terms of safeguarding personnel and aircraft," explained Cindy Howell, meteorological technician, 18th WS. "As a major storm approaches, training could be suspended, aircraft may be stacked or evacuated, early release of personnel may be authorized, and ride-out crews may be directed."
Fort Rucker, like many other Army posts and metropolitan areas, is close enough to the coast to feel devastating effects from hurricanes.
"Our major concerns at Fort Rucker are winds, flooding and tornadoes," Howell explained. "Although we're about 80 miles inland, we can still see hurricane-force wind gusts. Tropical systems are known for producing large amounts of rain, so flash flooding from heavy rain and river flooding after the storm can occur.
"Depending on the track of the storm, tornadoes are also possible. The right front quadrant of the storm is notorious for spawning tornadoes."
A term all coastal residents fear is "storm surge."
"Storm surge is defined as an abnormal rise of water generated by a storm and can cause extreme flooding in coastal areas, particularly when a storm's landfall coincides with high tide," said James Brinkley, a storm surge specialist with the NHC. "The resulting water levels can reach up to 20 feet or more in some cases."
At least 1,500 people were killed during Hurricane Katrina, and many of those deaths were due to storm surge.
"Storm surge produced by tropical cyclones poses the greatest threat to life and property along coastal areas and can travel several miles inland," Brinkley said. "Significant death tolls have resulted from the rise of ocean levels associated with land-falling hurricanes."
More information on severe weather safety is available at https://safety.army.mil.