If you’re a Rowan County native, you know that hurricanes are not overly common in this part of the state, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t feel the effects of hurricanes right here at home. Power outages, fallen trees, high-speed winds, and flash flooding are all possibilities thanks to changes in the atmosphere. The importance of being prepared for any of these natural disasters cannot be stressed enough by county officials.

Recently flash flooding wreaked havoc on Rowan County and surrounding areas leaving people stranded, houses ruined, and many out of power. The Salisbury Post article titled “Flash flooding submerges vehicles, surrounds homes off of Jake Alexander Boulevard” highlights the recent events with photos of local rescue squads jumping into action to help. If flash flooding can cause this much damage, imagine if something worse were to unexpectedly happen. Now that hurricane season is upon us, it is more important than ever to be prepared in case natural disasters like this were to happen.

 

Flooding from a recent storm at the entrance of Sacred Heart Catholic School. Photo courtesy of Gregory Miller.

 

What is Hurricane Season?

Hurricane season is the term that classifies the period of time during the year where hurricanes are more likely to appear. Generally, the time frame is anywhere between August and November. If you’re anything like me, you’re wondering why this specific time of year is considered the “peak” of hurricane activity. I had the chance to ask Chief Forecaster of Rowan County Weather, Steve Monday, about the science behind hurricane season and the cause of this spike. There are actually multiple factors that come together to contribute to the formation of these hurricanes in peak season.

First, he explained to me that normally, dry Saharan air prevents tropical storms and hurricanes from forming, but during this time of year, this dry air is nonexistent and moist air is the commonplace off the coast of Africa. Now mix that moisture in the air with warmer sea water temperatures that are perfect for fueling storms. On top of all of that, there is less wind shear in the atmosphere during this time of year making it easier for storms to strengthen. And let’s finish it off with some atmospheric instability to round out the list. Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me.

 

53rd WRS Hurricane Hunters showing what’s called the Stadium Effect inside of the eye-wall of a Hurricane.

 

When asked about his predictions for the remainder of the hurricane season Monday responded, “It’s still a bit early to tell. This has certainly been a very active hurricane season. Should we get a hurricane to track through the area it would likely weaken enough to be a weak hurricane or tropical storm by the time it makes its way into our area. Impacts would likely be strong gusty winds and tropical downpours.”

 

How to Prepare

Preparing for hurricane season this year is a little different due to restrictions and challenges revolving around the pandemic. However, one thing remains the same, have a plan. TJ Brown, Division Chief Emergency Services – EM Division, suggests that you start to consider phone numbers you may need, information about shelters, how to be safe in your home, what to do with your pets, etc. “If people lose power during a storm, they should contact their local power company.  DO NOT call 911,” says Brown. Calling 911 about a power outage may clog the phone lines for those who actually need emergency services for something more serious. He also advises to avoid downed power lines. Even though they are on the ground and seem dead, does not mean that they are and could cause serious injury.

 

TJ Brown, Division Chief Emergency Services – EM Division, in a Disaster Prep meeting.

 

If a hurricane or strong weather hits the Rowan County area, Monday recommends getting your weather updates from a consistent, reliable source. Many times, a common tactic that broadcasters use to build their audience is to forecast “doom and gloom several days out” by giving off a heightened sense of fear. To stay up to date with all things Rowan County Weather, visit their Facebook Page and Steve Monday will inform you on everything you need to know! 

 

Emergency Kits

COVID-19 has definitely changed how we live our daily lives, and now it will affect how we prepare for hurricane season. When creating your emergency kit, the rule of thumb is to be able to survive for around three days incase flooding or debris makes it difficult for rescuers to reach you with supplies. The essential items in a natural disaster emergency kit include:

  • Water (one gallon per person per day)
  • Food (non-perishable food)
  • Battery-powered or hand cranked radio
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Extra batteries
  • Whistle
  • Manual can opener
  • Local maps

Now that COVID-19 is an additional concern for us during this hurricane season, it is important to pack COVID-19 specific items in your kit as well. Items like:

  • Extra masks
  • Disinfectant wipes
  • Hand sanitizer

If you need more details on how to build a kit Monday recommends visiting Ready.gov.

 

Emergency Services and Resources

In Rowan County, our emergencies services department is comprised of three divisions: Emergency Medical (EMS), Fire, and Emergency Management/Homeland Security. They also coordinate with Rowan County Rescue Squad and the 911 Telecommunications Center. When I asked TJ Brown how the Rowan Emergency Services team and all departments involved, prepare for hurricane season he could not stress how important it was for them to have information. “As each season approaches, we review the current Tropical Season outlook.  The outlook gives us an idea of what could be encountered over the next few months,” says Brown. All weather can be unpredictable but staying up to date on all information available is the first step. After looking at the weather outlook, the next focus for TJ and his team is to address their equipment. He mentioned to me that exercises were held quarterly to test all of their equipment to ensure that it works properly if and when the time comes to use it.

 

EOC Staff meeting and planning in case of local disasters. Photo courtesy of April Everett.

 

COVID-19 has also affected how emergency services are being implemented as well. Normally, shelters are available during times of emergency in case citizens happen to lose their homes, but with social distancing guidelines in place, this now becomes a challenge. “A normal shelter that may have had a capacity for 200 people, will now be scaled down greatly to add social distancing between cots and client spaces if possible,” says Shelia Crunkleton, Executive Director of the American Red Cross Southern Piedmont Chapter. She recommends trying to make arrangements to stay with a family member or friend in case of an emergency. Staying in a shelter should be considered a last resort.

 

NC 211

Jenny Lee, Executive Director of Rowan County United Way, took time to speak to me about a local resource offered called NC 211. She described, “NC 211 is a 24/7/365 service that links individuals and families to resources ranging from basic assistance to healthcare. This includes rapid response to crisis situations such as natural disasters, major pandemics (COVID-19 relief), lay-off assistance and other emergency assistance.” This can be used for a variety of services, including emergencies after a natural disaster. When an individual dials 211, the calls are directed through an automated service which connects the caller with the local service in Rowan County that matches their request. “I would recommend pushing people to call 211 if there is a disaster,” says Lee. This prevents 911 from being overwhelmed with calls that they ultimately cannot assist with directly that would clog the lines for people calling with serious emergencies.

 

Firefighters dispatched due to the recent flash flooding. Photo by Shavonne Potts, Salisbury Post.

 

“We are going to look a little bit different than we have in years past and will put a restraint on shelters for sure,” says Lee. Organizations like the American Red Cross and Salvation Army offer a multitude of resources for those who may be recovering from a disaster like a hurricane. The Rowan County Salvation Army and The American Red Cross Greater Carolinas Region provide services to the Rowan County area and offer support when it is needed. Lee mentioned how the American Red Cross and Salvation Army are typically the first two organizations called to the area of impact, specifically along the coastal regions, because the Rowan County area typically does not experience severe repercussions from natural disasters.

Crunkleton emphasized that although things may be different this year due to COVID-19, their mission of helping people in times of disaster has not changed.

No matter what hurricane season brings to Rowan County this year, it’s always better to be safe rather than sorry. We have already seen the effects that flash flooding can have across the county, and you never know what could happen. Start making a plan and preparing an emergency kit just in case the worst were to happen. Stay safe, stay aware, and be prepared.