Hurricane season officially started on June 1, but before the season even began we already had two named Atlantic storms. In May, Arthur formed well east of Florida and grazed the outer banks of North Carolina. Bertha developed near the South Carolina Coast and traveled inland towards the Ohio River valley. On June 5, Hurricane Cristobal formed in the Bay of Campeche in Mexico. It made landfall just south of New Orleans and traveled along the Mississippi River all the way to Wisconsin and into Canada.

In late May, NOAA, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, updated their 2020 hurricane season outlook forecasting an above normal Atlantic Hurricane season. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a likely range of 13-19 named storms (which means winds of 39 mph or higher), of which three to six are predicted to be major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5 with winds of 111 mph or higher). An average hurricane season produces 12 named storms. We are already at three named storms in the first two weeks of a six-month long season.

Fortunately by the time most hurricanes travel through the colder waters off the coast of Maine they weaken considerably, but that doesn’t mean we are immune to their devastation. In the Northeast our storms are generally weaker with lower wind speeds than some of the strong compact storms that impact the gulf or Southeast coast, but they are often much larger in overall size which means residents in a larger area of our coastline are impacted. You only need to look at the extreme devastation that upstate Vermont dealt with during Hurricane Irene in 2011, as well as the damage Hurricane Sandy did a few years ago in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut to understand that even tropical storms and minimal hurricanes are capable of doing tremendous damage.

There are several potential threats and concerns with hurricanes. Naturally we are all aware of the extreme winds and heavy rain that cause widespread flooding. Some of those rain bands contain severe thunderstorms and even tornadoes, but the greatest threat to life and property along the coast are storm surge and large waves.

Storm surge is an abnormal rise of water generated by a storm’s winds. Storm surge can reach heights well over 20 feet and can span hundreds of miles of coastline. In the northern hemisphere, the highest surge values typically occur in the right front quadrant of a hurricane coincident with onshore flow. More intense and larger hurricanes produce higher surge. In addition, shallower offshore waters contribute to higher storm surge inundation.

Storm tide is the water level rise during a storm due to the combination of storm surge and the astronomical tide. For example, if a hurricane moves ashore at a high tide of 2 feet, a 15-foot surge would be added to the high tide, creating a storm tide of 17 feet. The combination of high winds and storm tide topped with battering waves can be deadly and cause tremendous property damage along an area of coastline hundreds of miles wide. The destructive power of storm surge and large battering waves can result in loss of life, buildings destroyed, beach and dune erosion, and road and bridge damage along the coast. Storm surge can also travel several miles inland.

The key to surviving any disaster is preparedness. There are many web sites, and information sources, including our own public library, with a wealth of great information on personal and business preparedness tips and recommendations that you can use to get ready for this summer’s hurricane season as well as any other man-made or natural disaster that comes along.

If you have any questions about this article or any fire department issue, contact me at [email protected] or call 730-4201.

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