As we enter the peak months of hurricane season, residents want to know how to prepare for a storm so they can keep their families safe. Hurricane season, which started June 1 and continues until Nov. 30, may seem to be off to a slow start, but in reality is progressing in a typical fashion.

Hurricane experts emphasize the need for early preparedness, and suggest that residents along the Eastern Seaboard take advantage of the next few weeks to prepare before a storm develops. 

In August, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) increased its predicted odds of an above average hurricane season. NOAA now estimates a 45% chance of an above average season. Their revised outlook is calling for 2 to 4 major hurricanes, or storms that are Category 3 or higher.

Hurricane experts at NOAA explain that most storms during June and July come from disruptions in the jet stream, but the pattern switches in August. NOAA also reports that 95% of hurricanes, and most major hurricanes, occur from August to October. Storms later in the summer develop from tropical waves that come off the coast of Africa. These late-season storms are the result of a completely different formation mechanism that gather monster strength as they travel across the Atlantic.

History tells us that the most destructive storms in our area did not arrive until the end of the summer. The 1938 Hurricane was a category 5 storm that devastated our coast on Sept. 21. It delivered wind gusts up to 125 mph and a storm surge of nearly 15 feet. The hurricane’s impact on the landscape was tremendous. Over 1,000 houses and cottages between Mystic and Narragansett were demolished, and 130 lives were lost across Rhode Island and Connecticut. Westerly was hit hard and lost 57 residents, with 41 of these deaths in Misquamicut.

Sixteen years later, Hurricane Carol caused widespread destruction when she hit Southern New England on Sept. 1, 1954. Coastal communities from New London to Mystic, Conn., and from Westerly to Narragansett, R.I., were severely damaged as a result of Carol’s powerful winds and an incredibly high storm surge. The category 3 hurricane destroyed over 4,000 homes, 3,500 automobiles and 3,000 boats and claimed 65 lives.

wHurricane experts warn that hurricanes do not have to make a direct hit on land to wreak havoc on the region. Super Storm Sandy of 2012 is a perfect example of a late season hurricane that was downgraded to a tropical storm but still caused significant damage. This hybrid storm brought a destructive tide across shorelines in Westerly, Charlestown, South Kingstown, Narragansett, and Block Island, and rivaled the impact from Hurricane Bob in 1991. Fortunately, there was no loss of life from Sandy’s visit, perhaps because she arrived during the off-season. However, property losses and public infrastructure damages from Sandy were immense.

Could storms like those happen again? NOAA hurricane forecasters predict that the storms we end up getting this season could be longer-lived and stronger because the winds now are forecast to be much more hospitable to hurricanes. Keep in mind that it is impossible to predict this far in advance whether these storms will hit land because local weather patterns at the time the storm’s approaching impact landfall.There are, however, steps you can take now to be prepared for a hurricane.

Meteorologists suggest that residents monitor the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and NOAA Weather Radio for up-to-date emergency alerts. They encourage residents to make plans for evacuation or sheltering in place, and become familiar with your evacuation zone, the evacuation route, and shelter locations.

They also recommend that you gather food, water, medication, clothing, and other emergency supplies to last you and your family at least three days. Remember that your pets will need food and water for several days, too. Keep important documents in a safe place or create password-protected digital copies. As the storm approaches, you can protect your property by putting away lawn furniture, outdoor decorations and cleaning out drains and gutters.

The Town of Westerly has information on its website (www.westerlyri.gov) about preparing for a hurricane or emergency flooding incidents. You can also visit www.ready.gov to learn how to prepare your family for a community disaster.

This column was written by Jane Perkins, Fire Safety Specialist for the Rhode Island Southern Firefighters League and Captain of the Watch Hill Fire Department. If you would like to see a question answered in this column, please e-mail her at askafirefighter@yahoo.com.

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