As Sussex County and the rest of Delaware continue to grapple with the effects of a global health crisis, a new threat looms on the horizon for Americans from Texas to Maine: the start of the Atlantic hurricane season.
As the six-month season officially began Monday, 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, whether the emergency is a health crisis or a natural disaster.
“I think the last few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic have taught us some very valuable lessons about the importance of being prepared for an emergency situation,” said Joseph L. Thomas, Sussex County EOC director.
Sussex County is susceptible to the effects of tropical weather, from flooding to high winds.
The 2019 hurricane season was above average in the Atlantic, with 18 named storms including six hurricanes, three of which were major and caused billions of dollars in damage. Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas was the most devastating.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting an above-normal 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, with 13 to 19 named systems possible. Of those, six to 10 could become hurricanes, with three to six possibly reaching Category 3 strength or higher, according to NOAA’s May 21 forecast.
Forecasters expect warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic and the lack of an El Niño weather pattern (warming waters in the Pacific Ocean off South America) to shape the 2020 season. The El Niño pattern, when present, causes wind shearing in the Caribbean and Atlantic that often thwarts development of tropical systems in the Atlantic basin. Without a strong El Niño, and water temperatures at or above normal in the Atlantic, conditions in the Atlantic basin can be ripe for tropical development.
Take these steps for safety
Everyone can create a safety profile for their household with the county’s free Smart911.com service to provide potentially critical lifesaving information up front to first responders.
Those who live in a flood-prone or other vulnerable area must be prepared to evacuate. Plan an evacuation route now. Emergency managers will notify the public, via the media, of what areas should evacuate and when. In the event of evacuating, people should take a storm kit and valuable or important papers. Evacuees should secure their houses by locking the windows and doors.
All utilities should be turned off including gas, water and electric. People evacuating should notify a family member or someone close to them outside the evacuation area of their planned destination.
All outdoor items should be secured. 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.
A family disaster kit should include: a three-day supply of water, counting at least one gallon of water per person per day; nonperishable 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; cash; and fuel. ATMs and gas pumps are affected by power outages, so it is a good idea to travel with money and have fuel in advance.
In the event of an approaching storm, people should travel during daylight hours.
If ordered to evacuate and seek shelter elsewhere, people should follow the instructions of local emergency managers on where to go and when. Provisions must be made for pets, as many shelters will not accept animals.
If people are not ordered to evacuate and they decide to take shelter in their home, their disaster kit should be kept ready and easily accessible. Important papers should be stored in the highest, safest place in the home, and in a waterproof container.
People can monitor the storm by portable radio, stay indoors and try to stay in an inside room away from doors and windows.
Phones should be used sparingly and only for essential, brief calls. Emergencies should be reported to to 911.
Do not re-enter the area until recommended to do so by local authorities. Upon re-entering, be aware of possible hazards such as downed trees and power lines. Have identification and important legal papers ready to show officials proof of residency. For information go to sussexcountyde.gov/hurricane-information and weather.gov/wrn.