GEORGETOWN — The six-month Atlantic hurricane season gets underway Thursday.
So the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center is reminding residents to take readiness steps, including creating a disaster kit, to limit damage and loss of life amid tropical weather.
“It’s often said the best defense is a good offense, and that’s especially true when it comes to preparing for natural disasters,” said the center’s director Joseph L. Thomas. “The time to prepare isn’t during an emergency, it’s before. A little prevention can go a long way toward protecting your home and your family, in case rough weather heads our way this season or any time of year.”
Like other communities on the East Coast, Sussex County is susceptible to the effects of tropical weather, from flooding to high winds.
In 2022, the area experienced no direct or major effects from such events. Last year was a relatively average season in the Atlantic basin, with 14 named storms, including eight hurricanes. Two of them were major and caused billions of dollars in damage elsewhere.
For 2023, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting a near-normal season, with 12 to 17 named systems possible. Of those, five to nine could become hurricanes, with one to four possibly reaching Category 3 strength or higher, according to the agency’s forecast this week.
An average Atlantic hurricane season sees 14 named storms, including seven hurricanes, with three classified as major, NOAA reports.
Forecasters expect warmer-than-normal temperatures in the Atlantic and a developing El Nino weather pattern — warming waters in the equatorial eastern Pacific Ocean — to shape the season. The El Nino phenomenon tends to thwart the development of tropical systems. That can lead to an average or even below-average season, something that hasn’t occurred in recent years.
The Emergency Operations Center advises that one step residents can take ahead of hurricane season is to create a safety profile with the free Smart911 service, which provides potentially lifesaving information to first responders. Profiles can contain as many or as few details as users prefer, including data about properties, medical conditions and family contacts.
There are several other steps to making your home and family ready for hurricane season:
- Be prepared to evacuate if you live in a flood-prone or other vulnerable area. Plan an evacuation route. Emergency managers will notify the public, via the media, which areas should evacuate and when. If you evacuate, take a storm kit and valuable papers. Secure your house by locking windows and doors. Turn off all utilities. Notify someone close to you outside the evacuation area of your destination.
- Secure outdoor items, including boats. Rainspouts and gutters should be cleared and trees trimmed.
- Officials recommend having a disaster kit, including a three-day supply of water, nonperishable foods, a manual can opener, a change of clothes and shoes for each person, prescriptions, blankets and pillows, personal hygiene items, flashlights and extra batteries, formula and diapers for infants, a portable radio, cash and fuel.
- In the event of an approaching storm, travel during the day. Do not wait until the last minute to make plans or to purchase gas and supplies. Monitor the storm on the radio and TV, keeping in mind that an evacuation could take 24-36 hours.
- If ordered to evacuate, follow instructions of emergency managers. Authorities will announce shelter locations in advance of their openings, which could include multiple sites to accommodate larger populations. Make provisions for your pets.
- If not ordered to evacuate, have your disaster kit ready. Keep your important papers nearby or store them in the highest, safest place in your home in a waterproof container. Even if you shelter in place, lock doors and windows. Turn off utilities and monitor the storm by portable radio. Try to stay in an inside room.
- Use your phone sparingly. Make sure cellphones are charged, but cell service may be interrupted.
- In the event of a hurricane, expect polluted water, limited communication, no electricity, overflowing sewers, undermined foundations, beach erosion and heavy damage to homes and roads.
- Do not reenter an evacuated area until told to do so by authorities. Then, be aware of possible hazards, such as downed trees and power lines. Upon reentry, have identification and important papers ready to show for proof of residency. Continue to use emergency water supplies or boil water until notified that tap water is safe.
For information, including evacuation maps and preparedness brochures, visit sussexcountyde.gov/hurricane-information or weather.gov/wrn.