Georgetown, Del. (2 p.m. Thu, May 20, 2021): Americans have cause for optimism as the coronavirus pandemic appears to be waning. But, just as the clouds part on a year-long global health crisis, the sunnier skies that await for summer 2021 actually could fuel another threat – a super-charged Atlantic hurricane season. And coastal residents should be on guard now.
As the six-month-long season officially gets underway June 1, the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center reminds the public to be ready ahead of the forecast. Preparation is critical to limiting damage and avoiding loss of life, no matter the emergency, be it a health crisis or a natural disaster.
“Last year, for sure, was one of the most surreal experiences for emergency managers across the country, whether it was the pandemic, wildfires out west, or a record-setting hurricane season here in the east,” Sussex County EOC Director Joseph L. Thomas said. “In all that, the one common thread that ties it all together is the need for preparation. As long as we are prepared, we can handle just about anything. But it starts with planning, and everyone, from governments to everyday citizens, have a meaningful role to play.”
Like other coastal communities from the Caribbean to Canada, Sussex County is susceptible to the effects of tropical weather, from flooding to high winds.
The 2020 hurricane season was the most active ever on record in the Atlantic, with 30 named storms during the season, including 14 hurricanes, six of which were major and caused billions of dollars in damage. For the first time in several years, Sussex County had its most significant brush with tropical weather in the form of Tropical Storm Fay in early July, and Hurricane Isaias in early August – both of which brought heavy rains and storm-force winds that downed trees, knocked out power, and caused some property damage. Compared to other locales, though, Sussex County fared well. But that’s no indication of how 2021 will play out.
For the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting an above-normal season, with 13 to 20 named systems possible. Of those, six to 10 could become hurricanes, with three to five possibly reaching Category 3 strength or higher, according to NOAA’s May 20 forecast. Forecasters again expect warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic and the lack of an El Niño weather pattern – the warming of waters in the Pacific Ocean off South America – to shape the 2021 season. The El Niño pattern, when present, causes wind shearing in the Caribbean and Atlantic that often thwarts the development of tropical systems in the Atlantic basin. However, without a strong El Niño, combined with the presence of warm sea-surface temperatures and an enhanced West African monsoon, as NOAA forecasters believe will exist this year, conditions in the Atlantic basin can be ripe for tropical development.
An average Atlantic hurricane season sees 14 named storms, including seven hurricanes, with three classified as major, based on NOAA’s new 30-year average.
One step residents can take ahead of hurricane season is to create a Safety Profile for their household with the County’s free Smart911.com service to provide potentially critical, life-saving information up front to first responders. Profiles can contain as much or as little information as users want, including details about their properties, special medical conditions and family contacts.
To help make the storm season safer for everyone, there are several steps you can take to make your home and family ready for hurricane season:
- If you live in a flood-prone or other vulnerable area, be prepared to evacuate. Plan your evacuation route now. Emergency managers will notify the public, via the media, of what areas should evacuate and when. In the event you evacuate, take a storm kit. Take valuable and/or important papers. Secure your house by locking the windows and doors. Turn off all utilities (gas, water, electric, etc.). Notify a family member or someone close to you outside the evacuation area of your destination.
- Secure all outdoor items. Property owners also will need to secure their boats. Area residents should clear rainspouts and gutters and trim any trees that may pose a problem during high winds.
- Have a family disaster kit. This kit should include the following items:
- A three-day supply of water. This should include at least one gallon of water per person per day;
- Non-perishable foods and a manual can opener;
- A change of clothes and shoes for each person;
- Prescription medicines;
- A blanket or sleeping bag and pillow for each person;
- Personal hygiene items;
- A flashlight and extra batteries for each person;
- Special needs items, such as formula and diapers for infants, as well as items needed for elderly or disabled family members;
- A portable radio with extra batteries;
- Money. During power outages, ATMs will not work;
- Fuel. Gas pumps are also affected by power outages, so it is a good idea to have fuel in advance.
- In the event of an approaching storm, travel during daylight hours. Do not wait until the last minute to make plans or to purchase gasoline and supplies. When a storm watch is issued, you should monitor the storm on the radio and television. An evacuation could take 24 to 36 hours prior to a storm’s onset.
- If ordered to evacuate and seek shelter elsewhere, follow the instructions of local emergency managers on where to go and when. Authorities will announce shelter locations in advance of their opening, which could include multiple sites to accommodate larger populations amid social distancing guidance still in effect as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Make provisions for your pets, as many shelters will not accept animals.
- If not ordered to evacuate and you decide to take shelter in your home, have your disaster kit ready. Keep your important papers with you or store them in the highest, safest place in your home, and in a waterproof container. Even if you seek shelter in place, you need to secure your home by locking the doors and windows. Turn off all utilities (gas, water, electric, etc.). Monitor the storm by portable radio to keep up with the latest information. Stay indoors. Try to stay in an inside room away from doors and windows.
- Use your phone sparingly. Make only essential calls and keep the calls brief. Report emergencies to 911. When reporting emergencies, identify yourself and your location, making sure to speak clearly and calmly. If you have a mobile telephone, make sure it is charged and ready to use at all times. Remember, however, that cell service may be interrupted during and after the storm.
Hurricanes and tropical storms can have devastating effects. In the event a hurricane affects our area, expect polluted water, limited communications, no electricity, overflowing or backed-up sewers, undermined foundations, beach erosion and heavy damage to homes and roadways.
Do not re-enter the area until recommended to do so by local authorities. As you re-enter the area, be aware of possible hazards such as downed trees and power lines. Be aware of debris and water on roadways. Upon re-entry, have identification and important legal papers ready to show officials proof of residency. Continue to use your emergency water supply or boil water until notified that the drinking water is safe. Take precautions to prevent fires.
For more information on preparing for hurricane season, including evacuation maps and preparedness brochures, visit Sussex County’s hurricane homepage at www.sussexcountyde.gov/hurricane-information, or the NOAA Weather Ready Nation homepage at www.weather.gov/wrn/.