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Small chance of big storms in OC still requires vigilance

(May 29, 2015) While there is relatively little to get excited about in 2015 if you’re a storm buff, a squall or a gale needn’t be named to damage property, flood local streets or cause bodily injury.

Hurricane season begins in the area on June 1, and this past week was National Hurricane Preparedness week in anticipation of the storm season.

In early April, Drs. Philip Klotzbach and William Gray of The Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State University released their forecast for a relatively mild coming season, predicting only seven named storms from a median of 12, with only three becoming hurricanes. Of those three, only one is projected to be a major hurricane.

Klotzbach and Gray predict there is only a 15 percent chance of a major (category 3+) hurricane making landfall anywhere on the East Coast this year, down from an average of 31 percent during the last century.

“Superstorm Sandy was a tropical storm when she passed by Ocean City,” Fred Webster, Worcester County’s director of emergency services said, “and she still caused in excess of $1 million in damage.”

Preparedness, Webster said, begins with a plan that includes evacuation routes.

“We understand in a resort area people come here to unplug and not pay attention to news, but you should at least keep on top of the weather so you’re not caught at the last minute,” Webster said.

Ocean City has its own municipal plan, activated during Sandy and Irene before her, which included going door-to-door to warn people to evacuate.

“You should have two ways to get where you’re going memorized,” Webster said.

In Ocean City, there are only so many ways off the island: via the Route 50 and 90 bridges or heading north up Coastal Highway into Delaware.

For the rest of the county, roads can and do flood during heavy, and sometimes even moderate, rainfall. Knowing where these roads are and how to avoid them, if possible, may end up being an important piece of knowledge.

“For example, there are some areas in Ocean Pines we know are going to flood. We try to evacuate these areas first so there’s plenty of time to get the people in Ocean City out,” Webster explained.

Often, Webster said, he coordinates with Ocean City Emergency Services Director Joe Theobald on joint statements and releases. The two, as well as their staff, will monitor weather conditions, not exclusively named tropical cyclones, to predict outcomes and travel times.

“We’re watching storms for days before they get here. Other weather systems out west may combine to bring in lots of wind and rain” before or after the hurricane itself arrives, Webster said. Those conditions, coupled with the time it would take to get everyone to a safe distance before the foul weather arrives, leads to decisions that could seem premature to the citizenry. Timing is important, Webster said, and moving a resort’s worth of people under deadline pressure is a big job.

Even if a decision is made to not evacuate, Webster advised keeping a supply of common-sense items around just in case. Items such as bottled water, blankets, dry clothing and first aid gear are all good choices, he said.

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