Officials urge readiness as hurricane season begins

‘Near normal’ hurricane season expected this year

NOAA released its Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook for 2016. Dr. Gerry Bell explains how to monitor hurricane forecasts throughout the season, from June 1 through November 30, and how to be prepared for any storms.
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NOAA released its Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook for 2016. Dr. Gerry Bell explains how to monitor hurricane forecasts throughout the season, from June 1 through November 30, and how to be prepared for any storms.

Wednesday marks the beginning of the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season, and emergency officials urge residents to make preparations now and not wait until a storm is headed for the Grand Strand.

“If you’re prepared upfront, the recovery after will go much quicker,” said Randy Webster, Horry County Emergency Management Department director. “People who don’t get prepared have a rougher time after an event.”

Residents should have an emergency plan in place, know if they live in an evacuation zone, prepare a family disaster kit, determine whether they would go to a shelter or elsewhere and check on insurance, Webster said.

“People need to understand it is hurricane season, and we live on the coast. … Every year we’re vulnerable,” Webster said.

The Grand Strand already had a brush with a tropical storm when the weak Bonnie brought rain and strong rip currents to the S.C. coast over the weekend.

People need to understand it is hurricane season, and we live on the coast. … Every year we’re vulnerable.

Randy Webster, Horry County Emergency Management director

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association said Friday that it expects a “near normal Atlantic hurricane season” this year, with about 10 to 16 named storms, including four to eight official hurricanes.

But that prediction is only about 70 percent likely, the agency said. Factors like El Niño and La Niña could affect how many storms (and hurricanes) actually materialize, and Webster said he and his staff monitor weather forecasts and any potential storm threats regularly.

“We look at it [NOAA forecasts] every single day,” Webster said.

The Grand Strand has seen its share of storms over the years, but residents haven’t evacuated since Hurricane Charlie in 2004, Webster said. The population has surged since then, and there are many Grand Strand residents who have never been through the potentially damaging wind and rain hurricanes can blow across the area.

Storm surges can cause flooding, and knowing the evacuation zone you’re in is a crucial part of being prepared, Webster said.

He stressed the importance of knowing whether you live in an evacuation zone, and determining where you would go if an evacuation should occur.

Last year, Horry County emergency management planners worked with local schools and disaster officials and tripled the amount of shelter capacity in the county before the start of the hurricane season, adding 10 evacuation shelters to the existing eight housed in area schools.

If evacuees plan to go to a shelter, they should know what to bring and what’s not allowed upfront, Webster said.

“It’s not like going to a hotel,” he said of staying in an American Red Cross shelter, which provides some water and food, but not personal items, and doesn’t allow pets.

Residents with special medical needs should be especially prepared, Webster said, and can get information about special needs shelters from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control at 843-915-8804.

Horry County Emergency officials have reviewed their hurricane plan, looked at the emergency operations plan and are making sure their own families are ready to deal with a disaster, so they can make county residents their primary focus if and when a storm hits, Webster said.

“We’re gearing up,” Webster said. “We’re getting ourselves ready individually as well to make sure our families are taken care of and our disaster kits are good.”

Officials with the American Red Cross are also urging residents to take the time now to ready themselves for any potential storms.

“Preparedness is critical year-round, but it comes to the forefront in eastern South Carolina as hurricane season approaches,” Nanci Conley, executive director for the American Red Cross of Eastern S.C., said in a news release. “We encourage families and businesses to take steps now to prepare for a hurricane or any other disaster.”

NOAA’s projected storm count includes room for four to eight hurricanes, which have winds above 74 miles per hour. And one to four of those may be major hurricanes, which are defined as Category 3, 4, or 5 hurricanes that have winds over 110 miles per hour.

McClatchy reporter Elizabeth Koh contributed to this report.

Elizabeth Townsend: 843-626-0217, @TSN_etownsend

Storm safety preparedness tips from the American Red Cross:

Build an emergency kit with a gallon of water per person per day, non-perishable food, a flashlight, battery-powered radio, first aid kit, medications, supplies for an infant if applicable, a multi-purpose tool, personal hygiene items, copies of important papers, cell phone chargers, extra cash, blankets, maps of the area and emergency contact information.

Talk with household members and create an evacuation plan. Practicing the plan minimizes confusion and fear during the event.

Be informed. Learn about your community’s hurricane response plan and use the South Carolina Hurricane Guide to “Know Your Zone” for evacuations. Plan routes to local shelters, register relatives with special medical needs as required and make plans for pets.

Residents can also download the free Red Cross Emergency App to select up to 35 severe weather and emergency alerts on their mobile device. The content includes expert guidance on what to do before, during and after different emergencies or disasters from home fires to hurricanes. All Red Cross apps can be found in smartphone app stores by searching for American Red Cross or by going to redcross.org/apps.

Additional safety information can be found at https://www.ready.gov/hurricanes or by calling the Horry County Emergency Management Department (843) 915-5150.