The Importance of Preparedness: The Storm Won’t Always Go Out to Sea

October 2nd, 2015 by Ben Yelin

Earlier this week, it appeared that the Mid-Atlantic could be in the crosshairs for a potentially dangerous Atlantic tropical cyclone.  Several weather models Monday and Tuesday showed soon-to-be Hurricane Joaquin making landfall in the Chesapeake Bay, which would have been a major natural disaster for the surrounding areas. As the Capital Weather Gang blog from the Washington Post put it, a direct landfall would have meant 6 to 12 inches of rain, damaging winds, downed trees and electrical lines, storm surges and widespread flooding from streams and rivers. However, over the past couple of days, the models have gradually shifted the Hurricane’s forecast path east, deep into the Atlantic Ocean. At this point, the likelihood of a direct hit to the mid-Atlantic from Joaquin is minimal.

While emergency managers can breathe a sigh of relief that the storm should move safely out to sea, they were wise to take a series of preparedness actions over the past couple of days. For one, the mid-Atlantic is getting deluged by an unrelated storm, so there is still the potential for flooding and isolated wind damage. Second, the path of tropical storms are unpredictable, especially a complex system like Joaquin. Computer models Monday and Tuesday had the storm hitting anywhere from the Delmarva Peninsula to Bermuda. It was only Thursday into Friday that the storm’s “cone of uncertainty” moved into the Atlantic Ocean. With several days to go until the storm passes the east coast entirely, it is important for emergency managers to hope for the best while preparing for the worst.

Here in Maryland, the State Government took a number of steps to help Maryland citizens prepare for a potentially devastating storm. On Thursday, Governor Larry Hogan declared a State of Emergency in Maryland out of “an abundance of caution.” This declaration allows him to activate the National Guard if necessary, and bypass burdensome procurement rules for contractors and equipment. Baltimore Gas and Electric brought in extra personnel in case power lines went down. The Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), under the leadership of former CHHS staff member Russell Strickland, activated its Emergency Operations Center on Friday, and encouraged residents to clear storm drains and gutters, fuel up vehicles, and charge cell phones.  Governor Hogan noted at his press conference that the State of Maryland was “taking every precaution” and encouraged Maryland citizens to do the same.

While this storm threat appears to be diminished, the mid-Atlantic region is still highly vulnerable to strong tropical cyclones. The recent experiences with Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012 remind us of the potential for damage, and neither of those storms made landfall as hurricanes. With early Joaquin forecasts showing the potential for danger, it was wise of stakeholders to take necessary precautions far in advance. Hopefully, it looks like the preparation will serve as more of a dry run for the next major storm.

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