By Vanesa Brashier, email@example.com
An average hurricane season is being forecast for 2019, but Dan Reilly with the Houston-Galveston office of the National Weather Service warns that an average season is still capable of producing powerful and devastating hurricanes.
At the Liberty County Hurricane Workshop on June 4 in Liberty, Reilly told the 50 or so people gathered for the public meeting that if the season goes as predicted, between 9-15 named storms should form in the Atlantic. Of those, six are likely to become hurricanes and 2-3 could become major hurricanes.
“What we don’t know is where the storms will track. We can’t predict that ahead of the season. Our job is to let you know what’s coming so you can prepare,” Reilly said.
A little more than a week into the official hurricane season, which began June 1, the National Hurricane Center already checked off one name from the list of this year’s named storms. In late May, a tropical system called Andrea formed in the Atlantic but did not cause any harm. Last week, the National Hurricane Center was keeping an eye on another disturbance, that could have become Barry, but it fizzled out in the Gulf.
“This is the fifth straight year that we have had a pre-season storm,” Reilly said.
June and July, while typically calmer months, are known for producing quick-forming storms that move into the Gulf quickly. By August, the storms begin to form further out over the Caribbean.
“Notice that things start to ramp up in August and especially in September,” Reilly said. “The peak of the season in the Atlantic is about Sept. 10. That is one kind of milestone to get to. When you are beyond that, you know things are getting better for you every day.”
Storms that form in September can often be tracked all the way to the African continent. Called Cape Verde storms, these long-lived storms often intensify over the warm waters of the Atlantic as they track toward the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricanes Ivan and Irma were Cape Verde storms.
By October, much of the risk is over for Texas.
“Those late season storms are more likely to curve away from us because of jet streams and fronts coming down further south in October,” he said.
For much of Liberty County, the main danger of a hurricane comes from wind, not storm surge. However, strong hurricanes can push a storm surge into Trinity Bay and cause major flooding in low-lying and flood-prone areas.
“About half of the fatalities from a hurricane is from storm surge flooding. In Texas, we probably understand water-related hazards better than most,” Reilly said. “There is an old saying, ‘Run from the water, hide from the wind.’ If storm surge is a threat for you, you probably want to get out of that hazard. If you are not in a storm surge area and have a sturdy shelter, then you probably want to hide,” he said.
Prior to hurricane monitoring by the National Hurricane Center and the National Weather Center, hurricane warnings often came too late. The 1900 hurricane that hit Galveston came without warning. More than 8,000 people perished in that storm. Fifteen years later, another major hurricane hit the Galveston area, leaving approximately 400 dead. In 1943, during the height of World War II, the Surprise Hurricane struck the Texas coast, resulting in 19 deaths, 14 from the sinking of two ships.
Today, the NWS warnings have resulted in a much-smaller number of casualties. Hurricane Rita in 2005 is responsible for 120 deaths, Ike in 2008 is responsible for 195 deaths and Harvey in 2017 caused 82 deaths.
While evacuations on the mass scale like that seen during Hurricane Rita are no longer recommended, with shelter-in-place a safer option for Liberty County residents, those wishing to evacuate should make plans well in advance of an emergency declaration, according to Omar De Leon, Liberty area engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation.
“Always be prepared. A lot of people don’t think about this but they should have a travel plan. You may not be asked to leave as a mandatory requirement but it might be in your best interest depending on where you reside in the county,” De Leon said. “A lot of people think about getting their supplies, boarding up or taking care of things at home, but just realize that if you have to hit the road at the same time that others are leaving, you might have a lot of traffic in front of you.”
De Leon, who lives in Kingwood, which was hit hard by the flooding rains of Hurricane Harvey, says his family’s plans include staying with relatives in Bryan-College Station. With his family out of harm’s way, DeLeon can focus on keeping the roadways safe for Liberty County.
“Another thing to think about is we have found that people rely on GPS, and I am guilty of it, too, because it will give you the shortest and quickest route without knowing if there are road conditions that have altered the time,” he said.
The lines of communication following a hurricane can be impacted by downed radio towers and antennas, so De Leon recommends that all drivers keep a road map of the state in their vehicles just in case GPS systems fail.
One of the most accurate ways of monitoring road conditions, assuming Internet networks remain functional, is DriveTexas.org.
The website and mobile app are operated by the Texas Department of Transportation, which monitors road conditions and issues warnings or detours when needed.
“During an emergency event, such as flooding and icy conditions, that [website] is updated in real time. We actually have some folks out there assessing the roads,” De Leon said. “The information is as current as we can get it.”
De Leon also recommends that Texans should follow TxDOT’s Twitter pages for updated information during an emergency. These pages can be found at https://twitter.com/TxDOT, https://twitter.com/TxDOTBeaumont and https://twitter.com/TxDOTHouston .