Report underscores misconceptions about storm surge

As a massive Hurricane Irma approaches the southeastern U.S., a recent report by Georgia Sea Grant brings back memories of Camden’s brush with Hurricane Matthew about a year ago. 

A visit to local grocery stores and gas stations were also reminiscent. By Tuesday afternoon, Camden County residents were already facing a shortage of gas and water at area stores as people stocked up. Hotel rooms were booking up north of Camden as locals made plans to head upstate. 

Others were just waiting and watching for a more reliable storm track to emerge. 

No local shelter

The weather forecast remained uncertain on Wednesday as Irma made its way past Puerto Rico toward south Florida. Its track will be determined by when and where it makes its predicted turn to the north.

As with past storms, no local shelter will be established in Camden County. Camden County Emergency Management director Mark Crews has previously stated that there is no safe place to house citizens and guarantee their safety. Residents are urged to make evacuation plans early and to heed mandatory evacuations if they are called. 

Shelters in areas outside Camden County may be established if that happens.

As with any hurricane threat, public safety workers are always mindful of keeping citizens and their property safe, even when some will ignore calls to evacuate. 

Why do they stay?

In June, researchers from University of Georgia and the National Center for Atmospheric Research met with focus groups in three areas affected by the storm — Brunswick, Savannah and Beaufort, S.C. — to assess why coastal residents chose to evacuate or remain in their homes. It also explored citizens’ comprehension of the risks associated with a hurricane. 

“Focus group participants discussed their understanding of storm surge, shared their experiences from Hurricane Matthew, and analyzed a series of experimental maps and 3D animations that were created for the purpose of this research and depicted hypothetical storm surge forecasts,” stated the introduction of the report. 

The most frequently cited reasons for not evacuating include: 

• Not knowing about the hurricane or the potential for storm surge flooding. 

• Believing house was high enough not to be affected by flooding. 

• Negative previous experiences with traffic (for example, Hurricane Floyd)

• Waiting until it was too late to safely leave.

• Responsibilities including pets or dependent family members. 

• Wanting to be home to address flood, rain or wind damage immediately.

The report concluded that people are often confused about the potential for storm surge and hurricane-related flooding and where their home is located.

“The 3D animations drove home the severity and rapid advancement of storm surge risks,” the report stated. 

It also advised public officials and weather forecasters to show surge risks in visual terms with recognizable landmarks.

“Showing surge risk at multiple scales is important because the regional scale indicates the spatial extent of the potential flooding, while the local scale indicated how specific places may be affected,” the report added. 

It also encouraged reporting storm surge height predictions alongside tide cycle information.

“More information prior to a hurricane’s arrival about the impacts and aftermath can help manage post-storm expectations. Examples include when people may be able to return home and/or have running water and electricity,” the report stated. 

Stay connected

During severe weather and other public safety emergencies, the local governments use the Code RED alert system to keep citizens informed of official announcements and alerts, including calls for evacuation.

To register, visit the Camden County website at camdencountyga.gov/482/Code-RED or click on the Code RED button on the county’s home page to register. Those who live within the city limits of Kingsland and St. Marys may also register through their municipal websites, which may issue their own advisories.

Citizens also may call (912) 576-3800 to hear a recorded message with the latest information.

The Tribune & Georgian will keep citizens updated through its website at www.tribune-georgian.com and its Facebook page about hurricane-related closures and evacuations. 

Readers are encouraged to monitor local weather reports as well as the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration at noaa.gov for official forecast probabilities and weather advisories. 

 

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