Hide From the Wind, Avoid the Water

Update, September 18, 2018: It’s over–the storm, I mean. Now comes the part that doesn’t make headlines, but is so very hard to deal with. If you’re in this situation post Florence, or end up in one like it in the future, take that last sentence to heart: you will make it through this.

Original post:

I lived in West Central Alabama for several years around the turn of the century. As a person from New England/upstate New York, I was clueless about hurricanes and asked neighbors what to do when one came by. They told me to hide from the wind and avoid the water.

It’s good advice, and I wanted to share it as Florence approaches the East Coast. No native or long-standing Carolinian needs such advice, of course, but there are many new people in the places that this hurricane is going to affect who aren’t familiar with such storms.

Your local emergency management experts will give you the best advice, and there is a lot of information coming from the media and reliable online websites like the National Hurricane Center, FEMA, and Ready.gov, but keep that axiom in mind for every situation.

Here are just a few things that I remember from my own experiences and think might be worth sharing.

Hide from the wind

Do you work or live in a high rise? You might want to find some place lower and safer during this storm.

Here is Superstorm Sandy making a New York City high-rise sway (? which floor they were on).

Is your escape route sheltered from the wind, and do you know what time high winds will reach you? Here’s a wind-arrival graphic from the NHC for Hurricane Florence.

Perhaps you’re planning to wait it out. Now’s the time to find your safe place–an inner room, preferably without windows, that puts as many walls as possible between you and the wind.

And don’t overlook tornadoes, even far from the point of landfall. During 2005, I watched a Category 3 tornado in Alabama from the other side of the lake it was traveling past.

This one:

It had been spawned by former Hurricane Rita, whose remnants were now sitting over Arkansas, far away!

(Just for the record, I saw it lift before reaching a trailer park and then set back down again after it had passed overhead. Whew! Many lives and much property saved there!)

Then there is the noise of hurricane winds. You can hear those in the background of the Superstorm Sandy video above.

When Katrina blew over us in 2005, it was on the cusp between Category 1 hurricane and a tropical storm, but we were still without power for three days.

Even with the decreased intensity, though, I have never heard such a racket–it was much louder than a New England winter gale, and it never paused.

That’s stressful, especially when you’re not expecting it, so be prepared. If you expect to be in Florence’s wind field, especially if you have children, plan to have some distractions around that will work in a power outage, like board games and coloring books–something that will take their minds off that noise for hours on end.

And also do everything you can ahead of time to keep your food stores safe for the duration.

In a hurricane, during a power outage, the air is very warm and humid, too; in Alabama that was expected, but it still was uncomfortable. In more northern regions, with a cooler, dryer climate, it could get very unpleasant, especially after the first 24 hours or so of the outage.

And don’t panic if you see water coming in under doors and through window frames and down stairs. What you don’t want to see is lots of water all at once.

Avoid the water

After Katrina, everybody knows about storm surge danger near the coast when a hurricane comes in.

You may live inland and think you’re out of harm’s way, but remember–every brook empties into a stream, every stream empties into a river, and when they’re all full the water will simply flow overland, collecting in any low spots.

In 2005, I was in a good location, far from the coast, and didn’t have to deal directly with flooded streams. But I lived by a lake, and day after day I watched that water rise as floodwaters from the surrounding hills flowed into it.

The lake was so big that I hadn’t dreamed it might rise that much. Fortunately, the rise stopped before reaching the house.

But none of those storms stalled and rained out over us, as it’s quite possible Hurricane Florence will do in the Carolinas and perhaps also in the Mid-Atlantic states.

And this is what a mere tropical storm did to parts of Georgia when it stalled overhead in 1994:

Now, before Florence hits, is a good time to check out your local flood hazard, even if you don’t expect to be directly impacted.

Check how vulnerable to flooding your evacuation route is.

Be ready (alternate routes, evacuation kits, putting furniture and other valuables in your home up above flood waters, etc.) before the first raindrops fall, and if you haven’t gotten that far yet by the time it’s storming, don’t give up–you can do it. In disasters, incomplete plans are better than no plans at all.

Finally, if you live in hilly terrain, be aware of the landslide risk. Water gets into the soil, loosening it and lubricating it. The whole slope can slip as a result.

For example, everybody knows that Hurricane Camille was a disaster along the Gulf Coast; few remember that its rains caused another disaster as its remnants traveled over West Virginia:

That’s just a few things off the top of my head, based on the experiences of someone not accustomed to living in hurricane-prone places but who had to deal with these storms.

I’m rather guiltily glad to be living on the West Coast now, up in Oregon where we just have to deal with things like a megathrust quake and the occasional volcano eruption.

If this is your first rodeo and you’re in Florence’s path, or know someone who is, I hope these recollections help a bit. Good luck, stay safe, and after it’s all over feel free to share your experiences in a comment!

Featured image: National Weather Service Eastern Region tweet.

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