2017-08-31 / Front Page

Precautions implemented by town since last big storm

HURRICANE SEASON
BY TIM RIEL

While Rhode Island has not been hit by a significant storm since 2012, the catastrophic photos emerging from Houston are proof a hurricane hiatus is no reason to take comfort. After all, it’d been a half century since a storm hit the Lone Star State with such vengeance.

It’s been quiet so far in town — Hurricane Gert a few weeks ago did nothing more than strengthen the swells for surfers — but federal forecasters are predicting a busy second half of the season in the Atlantic.

“The outlook underscores the need for everyone to know their true vulnerabilities to storms,” said Brock Long, director of the Federal Emergency Management Administration.

According to the report published this month by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, scientists are expecting upwards of 12 named storms along the Eastern seaboard through the end of November, and that’s not counting six such storms already in the books. Between two and five of those hurricanes are expected to be “major,” the report indicates. Those numbers, NOAA said, have a 70 percent likelihood. For perspective, Atlantic hurricane seasons averaged 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes between 1981 to 2010.

“We’re now entering the peak of the season when the bulk of the storms usually form,” said Gerry Bell, a leading forecaster at the U.S. Climate Prediction Center.

The wind and air patterns in the Caribbean, he said, are conducive to a significant next three months.

“The wind and air patterns in the area of the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean where many storms develop are very conducive to an above-average season.”

While Irene and Sandy washed boats ashore, closed roads and forced power outages in town, those hurricanes were downgraded to tropical storms by the time they reached landfall. Not since Bob in 1991 has a hurricane trampled the Ocean State with a direct hit.

Yet, the unprecedented and unpredictable flooding in Texas is just one example of why the town has not let down its guard.

Among the efforts, the conservation commissioners have strengthened the dunes at the Mackerel Cove barrier beach, and the new bathhouse there permanently is attached to a trailer so it can be ushered away in a moment’s notice. For its sustainability initiative, the planning board has climate change in its crosshairs, while the council’s wish list for transportation projects includes a re-engineered bridge over the Great Creek.

“We don’t want cars wading their way through seawater on their way into town,” Town Administration Andy Nota has said.

The town also wants to study the seawall at East Ferry, which is susceptible to overflow, flooding sections of Conanicus Avenue.

Another important aspect, according to Police Chief Ed Mello, is the complete approval of a hazard mitigation plan, which places the town in a better position to receive federal funding to repair infrastructure following a storm.

Jamestown also has been designated a StormReady community, which is a National Weather Service grassroots approach to prepare cities and town for severe weather. To be recognized, communities must meet a list of criteria, including a 24-hour shelter and a local weather monitoring system.

Moreover, Mello said the town has increased its storage capacity for diesel fuel by 4,000 gallons and has provided devices to six recreational organizations in town that can detect lightning. The town also has partnered with the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency to expand its Code Red database, an emergency notification system that sends phone calls, text messages and e-mails to residents.

“It’s important for everyone to know who issues evacuation orders in their communities, heed the warnings, update their insurance and have a preparedness plan,” Brock said.

Nota said other upgrades include new portable generators and 800 megawatt radios for safety personnel, which are more reliable. The town’s emergency team also meets during the hurricane season to discuss protocol, from school evacuation to pet care.

“Like all seaside communities, this takes long-term planning,” he said. “We take it seriously.”

How to prepare for a hurricane

The following is a list of tips from the Department of Homeland Security:

If you are ordered to evacuate, know the local hurricane evacuation route(s) to take and have a plan for where you can stay. Contact your local emergency management agency for more information.

Put together a disaster supply kit that includes a flashlight, batteries, cash, First Aid supplies, medications and copies of your critical information if you need to evacuate. If you decide to stay in your home, have adequate supplies in case you lose power and water for several days and are not able to leave due to flooding or blocked roads.

Have a family emergency communication plan. Many communities have text or email alerting systems for emergency

notifications. To find out what alerts are available in your area, search the Internet with your municipality or county name and the word “alerts.”

Before hurricane season, trim or remove damaged trees and limbs to keep you and your property safe.

Secure loose rain gutters and downspouts and clear any clogged areas or debris to prevent water damage to your property.

Purchase a portable generator or install a generator. Remember to keep generators and other alternate power/ heat sources outside, at least 20 feet away from windows and doors and protected from moisture.

Consider building a safe room or storm shelter designed for protection from high winds and flooding.

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