Hurricane planning urged

Expect this year's hurricane season to be as bad, if not worse, than last year, said the nation's most prominent hurricane forecaster.

BY HEATHER MOYER | COLUMBIA, Md. | April 19, 2006

NERT offers hands-on training to community members to help them respond in case of disaster.
Credit: NERT

Expect this year's hurricane season to be as bad, if not worse, than last year, said the nation's most prominent hurricane forecaster Tuesday.

"I expect many people are thinking the death and damages from last year will never be like that again. I'm here to tell you otherwise," said Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center (NHC). Mayfield spoke at the annual Severe Storms Conference held by the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) on Tuesday.

Last year's hurricane season was the most active on record, said Mayfield, and this year has the potential to be just as deadly and destructive. He added the number of storms predicted for the 2006 season should not be the focus.

"It's not always about the numbers. It just takes one hurricane over your community to make it a bad season," Mayfield told the crowd of responders from local, state and federal government agencies and private organizations.

Mayfield reviewed the 2005 hurricane season, discussing how his agency will downgrade or upgrade some storms after the season because of research on those specific storms. The NHC now reports that Tropical Storm Cindy was a hurricane shortly before it made landfall last July. Hurricane Katrina has now been downgraded to a Category 3 storm.

"I can assure you that as bad as this was, New Orleans only experienced Category 1 conditions," said Mayfield.

"There was a lot more to last season than Katrina," he reminded the audience. "We can't forget about the less populated areas that were hit. Hurricane Dennis devastated the Appalachicola (Fla.) area and its shrimpers."

Mayfield also touched on the continuing concerns over the NHC's forecasted hurricane track graphics, saying that he hopes the new graphics the agency uses will get the focus off the tiny black line of the current graphics.

"Don't ever forget that a hurricane is not a point, it's a large circulating mass," he said. And while the NHC can predict the track of a hurricane with a good amount of success, said Mayfield, the worry is that not enough attention is paid to the other risks of hurricanes.

"I have always felt like we don't do justice to the other hazards of hurricanes - like tornadoes," he explained, adding that predicting storm surge can also be a challenge. Combined with storm surges, waves can do significant damage.

"A cubic yard of water weights 1,700 pounds. With both waves and wind - that's just like a bulldozer."

Touching on the death toll from Hurricane Katrina, Mayfield also spoke about how every hurricane is different and should be treated as such. Just because people did not evacuate during the last major storm and survived does not mean they can weather the next storm in their home, he said.

"I'm convinced more people died from Hurricane Camille last year than when it hit in 1969," said Mayfield, noting that some people did not evacuate before Hurricane Katrina because they had survived Hurricane Camille. "Experience is not always the best teacher."

For this year, like many other speakers at Tuesday's conference noted, the point to hammer home again is making sure families have a disaster plan.

"We want every individual to have a plan in place before the season," said Mayfield. "I can think of no better tribute to the victims of Katrina than that."

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Related Links:

National Hurricane Center

Maryland Emergency Management Agency


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