Is Delaware prepared for a hurricane?

Hurricane Florence Nears the East Coast
Courtesy of NOAA Satellites
Natural disasters like Hurricane Florence are often studied by the University of Delaware Disaster Research Center (DRC)

Senior Reporter

Just imagine the state of Delaware experiencing a hurricane event with close to forty inches of rain, 105 mph wind gusts and ten foot storm surges.

That is what the Carolinas with Hurricane Florence wreaking havoc. According to Reuters, over 1 million people on the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia were ordered to evacuate.

Such natural disasters like Hurricane Florence are often studied by the University of Delaware Disaster Research Center (DRC).

Beginning in 1963, it is the oldest center in the world that specializes in social science and disaster management. The center was first stationed at Ohio State University and then transitioned to Delaware in the middle of the 1980s.

There is varying criteria that the Disaster Research Center team often looks at in order to decide whether to go to the site of a disaster. The team deems a trip worthy if they can learn from an event, advance science or gain advice on future practices, Professor Tricia Wachtendorf said.

“Sometimes we think of a large disaster, think of one response and focus on meeting immediate needs,” Wachtendorf said. “We can’t think of extra things to do. That is not the best approach. We can anticipate ahead of time, people are going to experience disasters in different ways.”

She went on to state that students would face several factors, even in ordinary storms, depending on campus living arrangements, whether the student has a car or a place to store supplies.

It was evident with Hurricane Irene, where the Roth Bridge over the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal closed once winds reached a sustained 50 miles per hour.

Delaware would need, at most, 36 hours to evacuate the area.

The optimal scenario would be to “get people on the roads and moving before the rain starts,” Gary Laing, a spokesman for Delaware Emergency Management Agency (DEMA), told The News Journal in 2016.

There have been civilian groups such as the Cajun Navy that have sprung into action with recent hurricanes dating to Hurricane Katrina, with as many as 310 volunteers that have mobilized to combat Hurricane Florence.

“The winds were so high, we couldn’t get [the boats] in there because the winds were toppling them and it was making it unsafe for us, so we had to use a couple of air mattresses and float people out,” Todd Tyrell, the founder of Cajun Navy, said to ABC News.

Wachtendorf sees such spontaneous action increasing in disasters.

“Understand that emergency management and disaster response involves public officials, firefighters, and public officers,” Wachtendorf said. “But also involves all of us, that we all have different capacities that we can bring in and be apart of that response and part of helping our neighbors when trouble happens.”
This can be seen especially seen in some cities that were caught off-guard by the downgrade in the category of Hurricane Florence, where neighbors helped each other to safety.

“As a meteorologist we want to convey that category of hurricane is not indicative of the impacts,” Dacey said. “Category only refers to the wind.

“Greatest threat could potentially be a big rainfall inland. Where you might not necessarily expect it. However they have also had the wettest year on record in that location right now.”
Both Wachtendorf and Dacey pointed out how the Carolinas’ soil is already saturated and could potentially contribute to further damage.

Dacey also mentioned that Hurricanes Harvey and Florence both have the attribute of losing momentum and siting over one area for an extended period of time. He stated that this was due to a lack of troughs from the jet stream that would normally move such a storm. Meteorologists can often use climatology to predict such events during hurricane season.

“This is the most active time, and it is living up to its name,” Dacey said.

Whether Delaware will ever face such a storm remains to be seen, but that does not mean we should not plan for it as Wachtendorf stated.

“Then the actual cost both in terms of financial cost and personal cost is much higher than in the long run,” Wachtendorf said.

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