Early Forecast Says Below-Average Hurricane Season

8 04 2016

The 2016 Hurricane Season will soon be here.  Everybody should begin preparing for the annual season which begins on June 1st.  Fort Bend County’s Office of Emergency Management completes approximately 40 preparedness tasks during the Spring to get adequately prepared for the Hurricane Season.  Updating the County’s Traffic Management Plan is a priority.  The Traffic Management Plan guides evacuations through Fort Bend County when our neighbors in Galveston County and Brazoria County need to evacuate.  Even though Fort Bend County citizens do not generally need to evacuate because of a hurricane, but it is critical that our jurisdictions and law enforcement agencies have a plan to keep our evacuation routes open and clear during a large-scale exodus from counties near the coast.

I have copied a recent article from Emergency Management magazine (March 22, 2016).  The article was written by Kimberly Miller from The Palm Beach Post in Florida.  The crux of the article is that a well-known hurricane prediction expert is indicating that hurricane activity in the Atlantic Ocean may be lessened in 2016 because of cold water.  This is an early prediction; more predictions will be coming out from experts in the coming weeks.  But, don’t let the hint of a “timid” forecast make you procrastinate about taking preparedness actions.  In 1992, there were only seven named storms, but one of them was Hurricane Andrew which, at the time, was the most destructive hurricane to hit the United States.  Even a much smaller hurricane will severely disrupt the lives of our community; so please use this Spring to prepare for the 2016 Hurricane Season.

hurricane

Article from Kimberly Miller:

A below-average hurricane season this year? Floridians will take that, even if it is just an early prediction.

Phil Klotzbach, a leading hurricane expert, made that prediction Monday, based partly on the fact that frigid waters flowing out of the North Atlantic Ocean may limit activity as warm seas that feed energy to storms cool.

“The far north Atlantic is one of the few really cold areas on the globe right now, and those cold anomalies are bleeding down toward the west coast of Africa,” said Klotzbach, a researcher with Colorado State University’s Department of Atmospheric Science. “From there, they alter pressure patterns, winds and churn up the sea surface making the Atlantic not as conducive for a super active season.”

Klotzbach, who made his prediction Monday at the week-long National Hurricane Conference in Orlando, won’t deliver his official storm forecast until April.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is also weeks away from releasing its official 2016 hurricane forecast, but meteorologists have been buzzing about whether the end of El Nino will leave the U.S. more vulnerable to storms.

El Nino, a global weather phenomenon that begins with a periodic warming of the Pacific Ocean, is characterized by strong westerly winds that cut down Atlantic storms.

The 2015-2016 El Nino, one of the strongest on record, is expected to weaken by summer.

But like a pendulum, the mighty trade winds that take a backseat during El Nino, can roar back, awakening La Nina – a more accommodating hurricane host.

The most recent forecast by the Climate Prediction Center says there is a 50 percent chance La Nina will arrive by September. Hurricane season runs June through November.

“The higher the chances of La Nina, the higher the chances for a bigger than usual hurricane season,” said Bob Henson, a meteorologist and blogger for Weather Underground, in an interview earlier this month. “You have less wind shear and more favorable conditions for showers and thunderstorms to develop into hurricanes.”

But Klotzbach stressed Monday that the atmosphere doesn’t always react immediately to change, meaning an El Nino hangover may linger to help thwart storms. Also, other factors, such as an area of low pressure he says has been a predominant factor over the East Coast have acted against storms. Low pressure turns in a counter-clockwise direction, pushing hurricanes away from the U.S. coast and to the north.

“I think the best example of this was 2010 when there were 12 hurricanes in the Atlantic and not one hit the U.S.,” Klotzbach said. “We were extraordinarily lucky that year.”

In fact, while Klotzbach looks at decades worth of data to see what patterns produce weak or active hurricane seasons, he said sometimes a hurricane miss is just providence.

The U.S. has not been hit by a major hurricane – Category 3 or higher – in 10 years. Florida’s last hurricane was 2005’s Wilma.

“There has been a significant luck component,” he said. “There have been 27 major hurricanes in a row with none hitting the U.S. The odds of that are one in several thousand.”

Klotzbach is lead author on the annual hurricane forecasts by Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Project. He took over the task in 2006 from noted hurricane researcher William Gray.

Last year, the duo’s April hurricane forecast said there would be seven named storms, three hurricanes and one major hurricane. The season ended in November with 11 named storms, four hurricanes and two major hurricanes.

“2016 will be a good test since we won’t have El Nino,” said Klotzbach, who believes the Atlantic may have entered a climatic pattern of fewer hurricanes. “It would definitely increase confidence that we are moving out of an active time for storms.”

Klotzbach is among dozens of weather and emergency management experts speaking at this year’s National Hurricane Conference. About 1,500 people are registered for the week-long event.





Disturbing News on the Hurricane Forecasting Front

15 04 2015

Photo-Hurricane KatrinaSo in my last blog entry, I encouraged taking hurricane preparedness activities for those that live in Fort Bend County; it is that time of the year, June 1st is the official start of the 2015 Hurricane Season.  It is important because the last hurricane strike in our region was back in 2008 when Hurricane Ike devastated Galveston County.

People have become apathetic about hurricane preparedness because they don’t really remember Hurricane Ike; and they don’t remember how bad it really was for many living in our region.  How soon we forget.

Then I turned to my latest issue of Disaster Research News published by the University of Colorado at Boulder. From its April 10th edition, Jolie Breeden provides information on some cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration budget that will reduce hurricane forecasting capabilities in the future.  I find these cuts disturbing.

Sure, examples of major hurricanes making landfall in the United States are not readily available from recent years— but the threat still exists—- and will continue to exist. Perhaps no major hurricanes will make landfall in the United States this year or next year; but it is simply a matter of time.  It is a question of “when” and not “if.”  And, when the next major hurricane makes landfall in the United States (and hopefully not in the Houston Urban Area), there will be questions about why the hurricane forecasting budget was slashed in 2015.  Here is Breeden’s article:

The Most Unkindest Cut: Hurricane Forecasting Takes a Hit

Jolie Breeden

It’s sometimes wise to stop while ahead, although probably not in the area of improving hurricane forecasts. Still, it seems the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has chosen to do just that with a nearly $10 million cut to its Hurricane Forecasting Improvement Program.

The cut, which represents nearly two-thirds of the program budget, was announced this month during a presentation at the National Hurricane Conference in Austin, Texas. According to presentation materials, the dearth of funds will likely result in a focus on more immediate forecasts (as opposed to 7-day forecasting goals), elimination of global modeling efforts, a reduction in funding to academic partners, and fewer real-time experimental products.

While the magnitude of the cut and the program elements affected are alarming, the National Weather Service’s Chris Vaccaro told Slate the outlook wasn’t entirely bleak.

“It’s important to emphasize that there is still funding for HFIP, work is still being done and advancements will continue to be made,” Vaccaro said, pointing to additional $4 million for super-computing that isn’t included in the cut.

Even so, scientists are concerned that hobbling the successful program—in five years the HFIP has made impressive advancements in both hurricane tracking and intensity forecasts—will have a chilling effect.

“It would be a shame to radically reduce this effort when gains seem to be in reach,” Bill Read, former director of the National Hurricane Center told the Washington Post. “While some improvements in the science of intensity forecasting may be attributed to HFIP over the past several years, more work is needed.”

Others point to the defunding as a myopic solution that will cost the United States more than it saves in the long run.

“Undeniably hurricane track improvement translates to lives and dollars saved,” Marshall Shepherd told Slate. “It is shortsighted to stunt this progress and hinder potential improvement in intensity forecasts. We can’t continue to be a culture that cuts progress, then panics only after a horrific tragedy.”

Lack of recent tragedy is perhaps one reason making the cut more palatable. It’s been nearly ten years since a Category 3 or stronger storm made landfall in the United States. Without the momentum of a recent disaster driving need, it can be hard to secure funding and prove program effectiveness.

Regardless of the will to continue funding at adequate levels, the NOAA budget (skip to page 758 for a quick access) clearly states the impacts of decreased support for the HFIP—coastal communities could experience unnecessary evacuations, NOAA’s reputation among the research community is at risk, and lagging improvement in HFIP models could affect a number of forecasting products.

But most of all, as University Corporation for Atmospheric Research President Tom Bogdan points out in an editorial that champions forecast funding in general, the biggest risks are those that cascade from not making long-term investments in much-needed science.

“The growing ability to forecast the weather plays a significant role in protecting our homeland, our businesses, our infrastructure and most importantly, our families and communities,” he wrote. “We need to continue to ensure that our society is prepared to meet the challenges and dangers of living inside Earth’s dynamic atmosphere.”





Time to Start Thinking About the 2015 Hurricane Season

11 04 2015

jpg-HurricaneGetReadyBelow is a short article by Heather Nolan, NOLA.com, The Time-Picayune.  The article was published on April 9th. The forecast, from a very reputable source, indicates a lower than average hurricane season.  I often get asked by citizens— how bad a hurricane season are we going to have this year?  There is never a totally accurate answer.  All predictions of hurricane activity are estimates—- they cannot be viewed as being precise.  I am glad to hear that the forecast is calling for a “mild season.”  But, one must always remember———— it only takes one hurricane making landfall in our region to turn a “mild season” into an “active season.” So please do two things.  First, read the article below.  Second, start getting ready for the upcoming hurricane season by going to the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management website and review the information posted about preparing for a hurricane.  Here is the link:  http://www.fbcoem.org/go/doc/1528/258151/

Colorado State University climatologists are predicting a lower than average Atlantic hurricane season, with three hurricanes and seven named storms in 2015. They predict one of those three will be a major hurricane – a category 3 or higher.  In a forecast released on April 9th,  climatologists Philip Klotzbach and Bill Gray said the combination of a moderate-strength El Nino and a relatively cool tropical Atlantic would keep hurricane activity low.

According to their forecast, the Colorado State University climatologists’ 2015 predictions are below average compared to a 29-year period between 1981 and 2010.  Hurricane seasons in those years averaged 6 ½ hurricanes, two major hurricanes and 12 named storms.  The 2015 forecast follows a relatively quiet 2014 Atlantic hurricane season that saw only six hurricanes – two of them major – and eight named storms.  It was the second consecutive quiet year for the New Orleans area since 2012, when Hurricane Isaac flooded hundreds of homes across parts of the area. Hurricane season begins June 1 and ends Nov. 30.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is expected to release its 2015 hurricane predictions in May.

Remember—- the 2015 Hurricane Season starts on June 1st!

ARE YOU READY??





Ready Bingo

20 07 2014

A project of the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management was noted in the June 2014 issue of the Fort Bend/Katy Business Journal magazine.  The Office recently received an award from the Emergency Management Association of Texas (EMAT); the Community Service Award in conjunction with the Arc of Fort Bend County.  EMAT recognized Fort Bend OEM for a project a public outreach tool; “Ready Bingo.”

Kathy Renfrow, Cheryl SewellReady Bingo is a fun and engaging way to teach emergency preparedness using a picture-driven bingo game. Ready Bingo targets a variety of audiences including seniors, children, persons with limited English language proficiency, and individuals with functional and access needs. The Community Service Award honors those who have provided leadership, guidance, facilities, equipment, or support to an emergency management program, a community, or the profession in the furtherance of mitigation, preparedness, response, or recovery activities in the past calendar year.

The Fort Bend County OEM is very proud that Cheryl Sewell and Kathy Renfrow developed the idea for Ready Bingo project which is now utilized across the Houston metropolitan area.  Inquiries about Ready Bingo have been received from other regions of the country also. This really is a result of great cooperation between Kathy and the folks at Ready Houston. Without that partnership and the close working relationships this idea would not have been implemented as successfully.

The Office is committed to communicating with the public in a timely, accurate, and accessible manner.  In particular, Ready Bingo provides an innovative method for sharing preparedness information with the whole Fort Bend County community.





State of Louisiana EMPG budget grab — Governor vetoes cost sharing language for locals

28 06 2013

I am reprinting the article below from the IAEM Dispatch.  With federal funding for emergency management and homeland security activities dwindling, the focus of this Map-Louisianaarticle is very concerning.  Disasters happen at the local level.  That is plain and simple.  As pointed out in the headline, this appears to be a money grab by state officials that will harm the ability of local emergency managers in the State of Louisiana to prepare and respond to disasters.  Hopefully, this will not become a trend.

 

Update on State of Louisiana EMPG budget grab—Governor vetoes cost sharing language for locals

Many local emergency managers have followed the Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG) situation in Louisiana with great concern since we published articles regarding the Governor of Louisiana’s budget proposal on March 7 and on the testimony of the Director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) on March 14. Local emergency managers were encouraged when the state legislature added an amendment to the appropriations bill, HB1, to require a 50/50 split of the funding with local emergency managers. Jerry Sneed, deputy mayor for public safety and homeland security for New Orleans, provided the following update: “This February the State notified us of their plans to distribute only 20 percent of the 2013 EMPG to local emergency managers. With the change, the GOHSEP would reserve 80 percent to adequately fund their department. This was both a surprise and a dramatic change from previous year’s distribution, causing many locals to support a 50/50 allocation through HB 1, the bill funding state government. Last week we were shocked to see that the Governor, who has always been a strong supporter of local emergency managers, line item vetoed this 50/50 split. The new decision, to only send 35 percent to the local emergency managers and to allow GOHSEP to keep 65 percent of this grant, erodes the enormous strides we have made since Katrina and hinders the local ability to effectively manage events and emergencies. This action by the state of Louisiana on EMPG also underlines the concerns of locals regarding the pending Department of Homeland Security FY 2014 budget proposal that would consolidate the homeland security grants. This proposal if accepted by Congress would give more control to the states and send us in the wrong direction.”





Hurricane Domes

3 01 2013

About two weeks ago, I made mention of the fact that Bay City in Matagorda County had received grant funds to build a shelter to protect its citizens during a hurricane event.  On December 28, 2012, Juan A. Lozano, Associated Press, wrote the following article which provides more insight on the construction of hurricane domes across the State of Texas.

Hurricane Dome, Edna

Texas builds “hurricane domes” for double-duty

Most of the time, the windowless building with the dome-shaped roof will be a typical high school gymnasium filled with cheering fans watching basketball and volleyball games.

But come hurricane season, the structure that resembles a miniature version of the famed Astrodome will double as a hurricane shelter, part of an ambitious storm-defense system that is taking shape along hundreds of miles of the Texas Gulf Coast.

Its brawny design — including double-layer cinder-block walls reinforced by heavy duty steel bars and cement piers that plunge 30 feet into the ground — should allow it to withstand winds up to 200 mph.

“There is nothing standard” about the building, said Bob Wells, superintendent of the Edna school district, as he stood inside the $2.5 million gym, which is set to be completed by March. “The only standard stuff is going to be the stuff we do inside.”

The Edna dome is one of 28 such buildings planned to protect sick, elderly and special-needs residents who might be unable to evacuate ahead of a hurricane. First-responders and local leaders will also be able to take refuge in the domes, allowing them to begin recovery efforts faster after a storm has passed.

Storm-defense structures are getting increased attention in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which inflicted heavy damage on the East Coast in October. The city of New York, for instance, is considering a multi-billion-dollar system of sea barriers.

For Texas, a state always in danger during hurricane season, the domes offer the extra benefit of serving as recreation or community centers when not needed as shelters. They are being erected with help from the federal Emergency Management Agency.

“I think it’s good for FEMA, and I think it’s good for us. And I think it’s good for the taxpayers,” Wells said.

The gym in Edna, a town of 5,500 people about 100 miles southwest of Houston, is the second hurricane dome in Texas. The first was built in 2011 in Woodsboro, near Corpus Christi. Most of the domes will be around 20,000 square feet.

The plan calls for structures in 11 counties in the Rio Grande Valley, around Corpus Christi and along the coast from Victoria to Newton counties, said Tom Vinger, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety.

So far, $34.5 million has been awarded. This month, FEMA approved funds for a hurricane dome that will serve as a community center in Brownsville, one that will serve as a wellness center and physical rehabilitation facility in Bay City and two that will serve as multi-purpose training centers in Kingsville.

Inside the gym in Edna, Wells’ voice echoed as he pointed to the ceiling, which has layers of sprayed-on concrete, insulation and rebar, all of which are under a heavy duty fabric that gives the structure its distinctive wind-resistant shape.

The doorways are covered by awnings of heavy gauge metal and supported by concrete girders that go 15 feet into the ground. FEMA is paying for 75 percent of the dome structures, with local communities picking up the remaining cost.

The funding is part of the agency’s initiative to help homeowners and communities build hardened shelters that provide protection from extreme weather. Nationwide, more than $683 million has been awarded in 18 states, including Texas, Alabama, Michigan and South Carolina.

Walking around the gym, Wells said it reminded him of when, as a teenager, he first walked into the Astrodome after it opened in 1965 in Houston.

“It was like, ‘Oh, wow, this is so cool,'” he said. “I’m still kind of in the ‘oh, wow’ stage with this.”





How is Emergency Preparedness related to Holiday Gift Giving?

7 12 2012

Holiday Gift‘Tis the season to give gifts to family and friends.  And, what better way to show you care, then to give emergency preparedness gifts.  The Wisconsin Division of Emergency Management (www.readywisconsin.wi.gov) has developed a list of its Top 10 Emergency Preparedness Gifts.  Here is the ReadyWisconsin Top 10 List:

1)  Emergency Weather Radio: A NOAA weather radio is like having your own emergency siren in your home. It is one of the best ways to protect your family in the case of a disaster. Emergency radios are a 24-hour source of weather forecasts, watches, warnings and other emergency information. You can purchase emergency radios for around $30 at most electronic stores, hardware stores and even neighborhood drug stores.

2) Winter Weather Survival Kit: Everyone should carry a winter survival kit in their vehicle. In an emergency it could save your life and the lives of your passengers. It should include:

  • flashlight with extra batteries
  • shovel
  • water
  • snack food including energy bars and raisins
  • matches and small candles
  • extra hats, socks and mittens
  • first aid kit with pocket knife
  • blankets or sleeping bag
  • road salt, sand or cat litter for traction
  • booster cables
  • emergency flares and reflectors
  • fluorescent distress flag and a whistle to attract attention

You can make your own kit or purchase kits at hardware stores and online retailers. And remember, each of these kit items make a great “stocking stuffer”.

3) Cell Phone Adapter:  “Murphy’s Law”…the moment you need to use your cell phone to make an emergency call is the moment you have no power left in your battery. Giving someone a cell phone adapter to plug into a car lighter is a great way to say you care.

4) Home Emergency Kit: In an emergency, basic services (electricity, gas, water, etc.) may be cut off for days or even weeks. You may be stuck in your home during that time or evacuated at a moment’s notice. You probably won’t have time to shop or search for the supplies you need. That’s why it is important to have your own fully-stocked disaster kit ready. The kit should include items like:

  • water
  • non-perishable food that doesn’t need electricity for storage or preparation
  • flashlights with extra batteries
  • first aid kit
  • pet supplies

5) Enrollment in a CPR or First-Aid Class: Call your local American Red Cross or American Heart Association chapter to find a class near you or your loved ones.

6) Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Many people know that smoke detectors save lives in a fire. But did you know that carbon monoxides can save you from the “silent killer”. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that can be generated by improper ventilation of furnaces, generators and other devices. According to the Centers for Disease Control, carbon monoxide is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in the United States, with more than 20,000 people visiting the emergency room and nearly 500 killed each year from overexposure to the gas.

7) Fire Extinguishers: Give one for the kitchen, another for the garage, a third to keep in your car.

8) Foldable Ladder: Keep it near a second-story window for quick escape in a fire

9) Pet Disaster Kits: Your pets will need food and water in a disaster just like you. Leashes and a carrying case or crate for safer transportation and housing during a disaster is also a good idea.

10) Battery Powered Lamps: Not only great for camping but perfect in an emergency when the power goes out and you need a lot of light.