Lumina News file photo
Warning flags fly in front of town hall in Wrightsville Beach as Hurricane Irene passes offshore on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2011.
Saturday marks the last day of National Hurricane Preparedness Week and the first day of the Atlantic hurricane season.
The predicted above-average, six-month hurricane season begins Saturday, June 1.
Wrightsville Beach Fire Chief Frank Smith said preparation remains the same no matter how active the prediction is for a season.
“The most important preparedness action is to have our citizens prepare individually and to understand what their particular hurricane risks are and to have a plan ahead of time,” he said. “In Wrightsville Beach, certainly the most critical hurricane hazard we face is storm surge flooding, because the entire town of Wrightsville Beach, being below elevation, is subject to storm surge flooding, and that’s what typically kills the most folks in a hurricane.”
Steve Pfaff, warning coordination meteorologist of the National Weather Service Wilmington Forecast Office, said he recommends people new to an area check with neighbors and friends who could help paint a picture of what to expect during storms, such as what to do if there is an evacuation and what practices work well for them.
Released Thursday, May 23, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s Climate Prediction Center forecast an active or extremely active season with a 70 percent likelihood of 13 to 20 named storms.
Of the 13 to 20 predicted named storms, seven to 11 could become hurricanes, including three to six possible major hurricanes.
The average season sees 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.
“Ultimately, what defines a hurricane season is that one storm and who it impacts,” Pfaff said. “… We don’t want to become fixated on the number. We always want to prepare like this year is going to be the worst year, because those numbers that we get from these forecasts don’t tell us where they’re going to go and who they’re going to impact. They just give us an idea how many may form in the hurricane basin.”
One common prevention tool is a disaster preparedness kit made up of water and non-perishable food for three to seven days, blankets or a sleeping bag, prescription medicines, a first aid kid, personal hygiene items, a flashlight, a radio, spare batteries, clothing, important documents and cash. Residents also need to have a plan for where to go in the event of a hurricane.
“You can’t be thinking about what to do two days before a hurricane,” Pfaff said.
Certain factors, like individuals who are young, elderly, or handicapped, as well as pets and boats, also need to be taken into consideration.
The last Wrightsville Beach mandatory evacuation was in 1999 during Hurricane Floyd, and Smith said the decision by town staff and the Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen to declare a mandatory evacuation is taken seriously.
“We’re fortunate that we haven’t been faced with that situation in quite a while, but another one of the challenges that poses is that we have a lot of folks that are new to the area and haven’t had the experience of a major hurricane and as such might not really understand what it’s all about and what they need to do,” he said.
Town vehicle tax decals serve as a means of identification for re-entry following an evacuation, and they should be purchased prior to hurricane season. The timeframe for re-entry depends on the severity of the storm and damage encountered.
“All you need is one hurricane to come where you are and it’s a bad season,” Smith said. “We look at the National Hurricane Center forecast daily. Actually when I start my computer every morning that’s the first thing that comes up is the National Hurricane website to see what activity there is in the tropics.”
For more information, visit www.towb.org and click on hurricane preparation.