VIDEO - Hurricane preparedness in under a minute
Delmarva hasn’t suffered a direct hurricane hit since before 1850, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“For those of us that are superstitious, that’s like talking about a no hitter during the game,” said Gary Laing, Community Relations Officer at the Delaware Emergency Management Agency. “It only takes one.”
Delmarva residents are fortunate because the area is nestled between other states that stick out farther into the Atlantic, like North Carolina, New Jersey and the New England states of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. In addition, storms that make it as far north as the Carolinas tend to curve north or northeast due to conditions like water temperature and air pressure.
But there’s always a chance. A storm is merely waiting for conditions to align to send it on a direct path to the Delmarva peninsula, and it could happen any time.
“Today is the day to begin preparedness for that hurricane that may or may not occur,” Laing said.
What we learned from Sandy
Delmarva might not have been hit by a hurricane in more than a century, but it’s certainly seen its fair share of damage from hurricanes that have come close. And coastal areas are not the only places affected. Summer storms that bring fast, heavy rainfall, lightning and high winds can uproot trees and cause damage throughout the state.
Residents held their breath as Hurricane Sandy approached in October 2012 and narrowly missed Delaware, instead making landfall 60 miles northeast in Brigantine, New Jersey. Later, it was determined the storm had lost hurricane force just prior to hitting New Jersey, but that didn’t change the magnitude of the effect on mid- and North Atlantic states.
Hurricane Sandy killed more than 150 people. Record-breaking storm surges caused devastating flooding. Transportation systems were shut down, businesses closed. Power went out across the Eastern Seaboard. Damage to homes, businesses, property and the environment was extensive – to the tune of $65 billion.
In 2015, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued the “North Atlantic Coast Comprehensive Study: Resilient Adaptation To Increasing Risk,” a report on what they’d learned from Sandy.
“Hurricane Sandy made us acutely aware of our vulnerability to coastal storms and the potential for future, more devastating events due to changing sea levels and climate change,” the report stated. “Changing sea levels represent an inexorable process causing numerous, significant water resource problems.”
Those problems include widespread coastal flooding, affect to estuarine ecosystems, insufficient stormwater drainage and a continual decline in the reliability of infrastructure like transportation, power and communications.
In short, the problems caused by extreme weather like hurricanes are only going to increase. However, pre-disaster planning and mitigation can save lives and reduce post-storm costs by about 75 percent, according to the report.
DEMA is doing its part by using upgraded technology, such as Hurrevac, a program that combines live feeds of tropical cyclone forecast information with data from various hurricane evacuation studies to assist them in evacuation decisions.
“It allows us to use available data to get a more localized picture of what could occur in a storm track,” Laing said.
Towns like Bethany Beach have implemented CodeRED, a system that delivers timely emergency notifications to residents on their cell phones. The state uses the Delaware Emergency Notification System, a reverse-911 program, to deliver evacuation messages.
In Rehoboth Beach, beach maintenance is key. The dunes are replenished regularly, most recently in 2017, and the beach was replenished just before that. Storm drains are regularly cleared.
Planning for the worst
On the home front, taking simple steps to prepare for a hurricane now can drastically improve your chance of coming out of it alive and with as little property damage as possible, and maybe without a major headache.
“People should have a plan,” Laing said. “It’s critical.”
During hurricane season, which is generally June through November, it’s more important than ever to keep up to date on weather conditions. Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to do so, with TV, internet and social media. Government agencies DEMA and NOAA will have the most accurate and up-to-date storm information.