Published on 09/01/04

Be prepared for hurricane, climatologist warns

(EDITOR'S NOTE: On Thursday, Sept. 2, David Stooksbury can be contacted at 912-790-8287.)

By Dan Rahn
University of Georgia

All Georgians should take seriously the need to prepare for Hurricane Frances, said State Climatologist David Stooksbury. And when he says "all Georgians," he means people from the coast to the mountains.

"People shouldn't focus too closely on the projected track of a hurricane," Stooksbury said. "They should pay more attention to the swath of impact, which is a much greater area. Hurricane-force winds can be felt 100 miles away from the center of a major hurricane and tropical-storm-force winds (up to 74 miles per hour) much farther."

As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center's official five-day forecast track was predicting Frances would cross the southwestern corner of the state early Monday. But Stooksbury stresses that people shouldn't let down their guard if the forecast track seems to be missing them.

Be alert

"Pay close attention to what your county emergency management agency is saying," he said. Tropical storms, he said, have farther reach and more ways to wreak havoc than people tend to think.

"We learned from Charley, Opal (1995) and Hugo (1989) that the winds of major hurricanes can cause tremendous damage as far away as the mountains," he said. "And we learned from Tropical Storm Alberto (1994) that tropical rains can produce devastating flooding."

Storm surges are deadly concerns for coastal residents where a tropical system makes landfall. But flooding can be a major threat hundreds of miles inland. Over the past three decades, he said, more people have died of inland flooding than from storm surges.

Hard lessons

Georgia residents should know. In July 1994, Alberto dumped 10 to 20 inches of rain in west and central Georgia. The rain overran the Flint, Ocmulgee and Chattahoochee rivers, flooding an area the size of Massachusetts and Rhode Island combined.

The flood forced more than 40,000 Georgia residents to evacuate. It closed 1,700 roads and 300 bridges, destroyed 12,000 homes and businesses and took the lives of 30 people.

As Hurricane Frances and any other tropical storm approaches, Stooksbury said, it's important to pay close attention to weather forecasts and local emergency management advisories. And properly prepare for whatever is headed your way:

  • Shutter, board up or tape your windows if storm-force winds are forecast. Tape won't keep a window from breaking but may prevent flying glass. Put away bicycles, children's toys, lawn furniture, garbage cans and other loose items. Tie down anything you can't store inside.
  • Make sure you have a safe place to put your animals, whether you are going to stay or evacuate. This applies both to livestock and to pets.
  • Turn your refrigerator or freezer controls to the coldest setting, so food will stay cold longer if power fails. Fill large containers with water. Make sure you have several days' supply of prescription medications. And stock up on candles, lamps and flashlights.
  • Have several days' supply of drinking water and foods you don't have to refrigerate or cook. If you do cook, don't use gas or charcoal grills indoors or in an enclosed, poorly ventilated space.
  • Fill the fuel tank of your vehicle and have it ready to go if you may need to evacuate.
  • Have a contact person for family members to call who lives outside the region being hit. That way, when everyone's scattered and evacuating, they can check in with this stable person and distribute news about everyone's whereabouts and condition.
Learn more about preparing for tropical storms at these Web sites:

(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.