EMA: Activate storm plans now

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Today marks the official start of the 2011 hurricane season.

And while there may not be any activity brewing in the Gulf, local officials say “now” is the time to begin preparations.

Forecasters predict that the Atlantic has a 65 percent chance of producing 12 to 18 storms, with six to 10 of them becoming hurricanes, according to the U.S. Climate Prediction Center. In an average year, there are 11 named storms.

The last time a major hurricane hit the U.S., pounding beaches and towns with winds of more than 111 miles per hour, was in 2005 when the U.S. saw 15 hurricanes and seven major storms – including Katrina and Rita.

Susan Harris, Covington County’s emergency management agency director, said Covington County is no stranger to severe weather and that the recent tornados should serve as a reminder about the importance of planning for a disaster.

“In Covington County, we know that tornadoes are strong enough to damage roofs, destroy mobile homes, snap or uproot large trees and turn debris into damaging windborne missiles – we’ve seen it,” Harris said. “I can’t stress enough how important it is to determine ‘now’ where you will take shelter in case of a tornado warning or hurricane warning.”

Harris said storm cellars or basements provide the best protection if underground shelter is not available.

“You should go into an interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible,” she said. “Stay away from windows, doors and outside walls. Practice your shelter-in-place plan on a regular basis. Get emergency supply kits and keep them in your shelter locations.

If you live in a manufactured home, be prepared and have early warning information.

“Seeking shelter in a more secure location during storms is important for occupants of manufactured homes,” she said. “When a tornado warning has been issued, leave your manufactured home immediately. Go to your preplanned safe place or lie down in a low area with your hands covering the back of your head and neck.”

Harris said plans are available at the local EMA office for those wishing to construct a safe room inside their home or a storm shelter on their property.

Hurricane season runs through Nov. 30.

Last year, forecasters said a trough, or an elongated area of low pressure, protected the U.S. from major damage. Now, that trough is setting up across the Mississippi Valley. If it stays there, forecasters predict it could act as a magnet to pull storms into the southeastern U.S. or mid-Atlantic.

Also, the position of this year’s Bermuda High, a semi-permanent area of high pressure over the North Atlantic, may also drive storms closer to the U.S.

“It’s vital that you have these plans in place before a storm hits,” Harris said.