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Weather event preparedness takes center stage after Florence

A NASA image shows Hurricane Florence from the International Space Station this week as it threatens the US East Coast.
A NASA image shows Hurricane Florence from the International Space Station this week as it threatens the US East Coast.

By Tamas Mondovics

It is safe to say that for the past 10 days Hurricane Florence was the minds of many residents on the coastline as well as locally prompting residents to revisit their storm readiness and disaster preparedness. Members of the Johnson County Emergency Management Agency located at 216 Honeysuckle St. in Mountain City, led by JCEMA Director Jason Blevins and Operations Officer Michael Sumner, were on alert to make sure area residents are cared for before, both during and after a storm

Fortunately, other then a couple of rainy days Johnson County and surrounding communities were mostly spared, although some local waterways did see some increased level and possible flooding in some areas are not yet ruled out.  While making its way toward the US coastline, Florence was downgraded from a category 4 (Major), hurricane to a category 2, with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph. The storm, however rightfully earned its ‘monster’ categorization thanks to the expected amount of rainfall and the subsequent flooding forecast.

AccuWeather meteorologists believed that the storm would survive long enough to bring rounds of heavy rain and the risk of flooding to the central Appalachians and the northeastern United States including the North Carolina high country. Florence’s widespread torrential rainfall and significant flood risk remained in southern Virginia on the south and expanded inland heading northeastward. At the end officials estimated Hurricane Florence damage at $17 billion to $22 billion, which they said, “could go higher.”

As of Monday evening (9/17) officials have linked 32 deaths to the storm, most of them in North Carolina, a number that had nearly doubled since a day earlier. State officials

stressed that the storm’s dangers had not relented even as it moved away from the state.
Florence swept across the Carolinas prompted a widespread emergency across all of North Carolina, from the ocean east to mountain west. Floodwaters, thanks to torrential rainfall in some parts of the Carolinas reaching 30 inches and more, pushed many rivers to all-time highs.

North Carolina authorities have reportedly confirmed 25 deaths there by Monday evening, including at least three children between the ages of three months and one year. The punch Florence delivered as it moved inland was by no means unprecedented. Hurricane Hugo, in September 1989 was one of the strongest hurricanes in South Carolina’s history and was at the time the most costly hurricane ever in the Atlantic Ocean. Even seven hours after its final landfall, Hugo still produced hurricane-force winds across the western Piedmont and foothills of North Carolina. In all, Hugo was responsible for at least 86 fatalities and caused at least $8 to $10 billion in damage [unadjusted 1989 dollars; some sources quote higher damage and fatality statistics].

Hugo attained hurricane strength on September 14, then turned west-northwestward early on September 15 as it quickly strengthened into a rare category five hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 160 mph. The storm caused major widespread flooding across several states as it made its way western North Carolina before northward and moved through the mountainous terrain of Virginia and West Virginia, still producing wind gusts of 40 to 55 mph east of the storm’s center.

“We are dedicated to care for our residents first before we use our resources to assist other areas affected by the storm,” Blevins said.

All of this, of course, hopefully reminds area residents to be prepared and ready for the upcoming fall and winter season, which will bring its weather related challenges.
“Be prepared and be ready,” Blevins said.

Breakdown of type of damage each category of storm can do:

• Category 1: Winds 74 to 95 mph (Minor damage)
• Category 2: Winds 96 to 110 mph (Extensive damage — Can uproot trees and break windows)
• Category 3: Winds 111 to 129 mph
(Devastating — Can break windows and doors)
• Category 4: Winds 130 to 156 mph
(Catastrophic damage -— Can tear off roofs)
• Category 5: Winds 157 mph or higher (The absolute worst and can level houses and destroy buildings)