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National Hurricane Director On Preparedness: "Impacts Can Be Well Outside The Cone"

May 18, 2018
Originally published on May 17, 2018 7:19 pm

As the start of hurricane season nears, National Hurricane Center director Ken Graham wants South Florida residents to make a plan now. On Sundial, the former journalist discusses the science of forecasting, how he communicates impacts and the importance of working across industries when it comes to hurricane preparedness.

He recently spoke at the 32nd Annual Governor's Hurricane Conference in West Palm Beach. The conference is held before the start of each hurricane season and offers sessions on hurricane preparedness and communication. 

WLRN: Is there one thing about last year's season ... that is a lesson that you really want everyone to remember?

Graham: We're getting a lot better when it comes to the science. But here's what we've got to really remember: the better we do, the smaller the cone. So if you think about it, the cone is simply a cone of mathematical analysis of how well we've done over the last five years. A couple of really good years, smaller cone. If we struggle a little bit the cone gets bigger. We've always got to remember that ... impacts can be well outside the cone. In fact, hundreds and hundreds of miles away from that cone you could get some of the worst conditions with a tropical system, heavy rain, tornadoes, a storm surge. A cone of impact could be hundreds of miles away and still get big impacts from tropical systems.

Again, we say it so much ... but having that plan is everything. It's reducing the stress of the hurricane by knowing where you're going to go, knowing what your vulnerabilities are and having medicine and food and water for the first 72 hours because in the big storms ... you're on your own for a little while. And that's a big message. Be ready be prepared and that way you know you'll be ready to do what you have to do in the next storm.

In a lot of ways you're uniquely prepared for this position. You started your career as a broadcast meteorologist. Talk about your experience working in the media and how it got you ready for this job?

You know I think working in the media and everything that I've done in the Weather Service the last 24 years ... it is so clear to me everything to do with the science has to be relatable and actionable by the people. And it's not always easy to make that translation. Everything you do is trying to communicate what that impact is going to be to a person. And if you can do that then there's some action, there's some preparedness that takes place and lives are saved.

You're the new face of the organization - you oversee the outreach and the preparedness messaging. How are you coordinating with the media to get that message out there for rapid communications, especially when we start getting closer to the storms?

I think across the country we're seeing more of these integrated warning teams where officers are meeting with the media and emergency managers in the same room. I want to keep doing that too. I've never seen a time in my career with so much information out there. I've never seen a time that the need isn't greater than now for us all to be together - the media, emergency management - because all the studies show a consistent message saves lives. It's really reaching out to the media, it's attending the conference, it's being here today talking about the real issues. We're all going to have to be in the room and really have a conversation about what's going well, what are the challenges and let's go there together. And I think that's one big thing that I really want to do in this new position.

Researchers including the Union of Concerned Scientists have argued, "climate change is exacerbating the strengths of hurricanes." Yet, none of the sessions at the conference focused on climate change research as it relates to hurricanes. As the new director, how are you approaching this topic?

It's hard to take one storm or one season and equate it to climate change because we can find other seasons that were worse, other seasons that were similar. So that part of it's difficult. But the one conversation that I know that we do have [to have is] sea-level rise. And the other part is the conversation about rain. You know a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture and you can get some heavier rain events. So it goes back to those impacts and looking at what those impacts are and being able to be ready for those.

Here is a checklist of needs for hurricane season:

  • Water: one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days
  • Food: minimum three days worth of nonperishable food and a manual can opener
  • Battery-powered radio
  • Flashlight
  • Extra batteries
  • First-aid kit
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags, and toilet paper for sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers
  • Local maps
  • Prescription medications
  • Infant formula and diapers
  • Pet food and water for pet
  • Cash
  • Family Documents
  • Changes of clothes

Evacuation Guidelines:

  • Make a plan ahead of time
  • Be aware of locations of hurricane evacuation shelters
  • Keep a full tank of gas if evacuation seems likely
  • Take one car per family to reduce traffic and delay
  • Leave early enough to avoid being trapped by weather
  • Follow recommended evacuation routes as other roads may be blocked
  • Be alert for road hazards and do not drive into flooded areas
  • Keep an emergency supply kit in the car
  • Take a battery-powered radio to hear updates on evacuation instructions
  • People without a car should make prior arrangements for evacuation

Resources:

Note: It's best to buy and prep now to avoid long lines and stores running out of stock.

This checklist was originally published on WLRN in 2017. It has been updated to include current information. 

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