Experts: We're 'due' for a hurricane, prepare ahead of time

Aug 11, 2011

You probably remember 1991’s Hurricane Bob, or the gusty Hurricane Gloria in 1985. Perhaps you remember hurricanes Carol and Edna, which pounded the area in 1954.

As the 20-year anniversary of Hurricane Bob, which formed in the Bahamas on August 16, 1991, approaches, meteorologists say this area is “overdue” for a hurricane and emergency officials are reminding residents to have disaster plans in place even before storms are predicted.

On average, a Category 3 hurricane hits the area every 30 years, said Meteorologist Alan Dunham, who is based in the National Weather Service forecast office in Taunton. The peak of the hurricane season for southeastern New England is August and September.

Hurricanes are ranked 1 to 5 on a scale of strength. Category 1 hurricanes bring winds of 74 to 95 mph and a 4- to 5-foot storm surge - the rise of water generated by the storm. Category 2 hurricanes provide gusts of 96 to 110 mph and a storm surge of 6- to 8-feet, while Category 3 hurricanes bring winds from 111 mph to 130 mph and a 9- to 12-foot storm surge. Category 4 brings winds from 131 to 155 mph and a storm surge of 13- to 18-feet and Category 5 winds are in excess of 155 mph with a storm surge of 18 feet or more.

Categories 4 and 5 are uncommon in this area. Southern New England has never seen a hurricane above Category 3, Dunham said.

Hurricane Bob was a weakened Category 2 when it hit New England, while Gloria had weakened to Category 1. The last Category 3 hurricanes to hit the area were Carol and Edna back in 1954.

Dunham says there are “three problems” with hurricanes: The storm surge, which can cause injuries and death, the strong wind, which knocks down trees and takes out power lines; and flooding.

There are many variables that affect a hurricane’s storm surge, such as whether it comes in at low tide, with the tide, or at high tide.

Emergency officials worry that because the area hasn’t seen a hurricane in many years, people may be growing complacent in their preparations.

“A lot of people don’t have an appreciation of what’s going to transpire” when hurricane watches or warnings are issued, said Onset Fire Captain Raymond Goodwin. “When you’re given instructions, you have to act.”

Massachusetts is 90 degrees against the course of the storms that come up the east coast from the south, Goodwin said. Buzzards Bay becomes a “natural funnel,” with wind and the storm surge forcing water into the area.

“If you live in Wareham, you live in a storm surge area unless you’re way inland,” Goodwin said. “The water has no where to go except over us.”

Before a storm, fire departments will disperse equipment to strategic locations so firefighters are best able to respond afterwards.

“Onset and Wareham will become a series of little islands” due to the flooding,” Goodwin said.

The best thing you can do is prepare for a storm ahead of time, officials say.

“We’re in action mode,” said Town Administrator Mark Andrews.

Andrews said he and town officials are meeting with emergency officials this week to create a disaster plan.

“Last year we prepared for a storm that never occurred,” said Wareham Fire Chief Robert McDuffy, referring to Hurricane Earl. “[When] the signs are all there ... if [a storm] doesn’t happen, in my opinion, we win.”

Emergency officials recommend that residents create a “family plan” before a storm hits, which identifies escape routes from your home and neighborhood, designates a meeting place for your family to reunite if you are separated, and establishes a contact person to communicate with concerned relatives. Identify an out-of-state relative or friend as an additional point of contact.

Above all: “People need to follow instruction, whether it be from the state or from local authorities,” Dunham said, a sentiment echoed by emergency officials. “People need to realize that if they stay [in their homes] ... [authorities] may not be able to get to them.”

The documents linked below this story have printable checklists to help you prepare yourself, your family, and your home for a hurricane ahead of time. Check them out!