Gov. Mark Sanford stood in front of a crowd of cameras last week to warn that hurricane season was back and the South Carolina’s blissful hurricane-less years may be over.
“I don’t think we’ll be that lucky in this year,” he said.
Yes. You have heard that before. But there are a lot of numbers behind Sanford’s best guess … er, worst nightmare. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts there will be up to 23 named storms with as manv as 14 storms reaching 74 mph and between three and seven reaching more than 111 mph.
“If this outlook holds true, this season could be one of the more active on record,” says NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco in an NOAA statement. “The greater likelihood of storms brings an increased risk of a landfall. In short, we urge everyone to be prepared.”
High winds and warm waters are the contributing factors to the season, which already saw a potential storm developing off the Carolina coast late last month. It was unusually early considering the season didn’t officially start until June 1 and usually doesn’t pick up until mid-August.
“The bottom line on the preparedness point is that this is going to be a busy hurricane season,” Sanford says. “On a professional level, we emphasize (preparedness). But, on an individual level, there’s a temptation to get lax about a storm hitting South Carolina.”
Flanked by leaders at state and local emergency agencies, the Department of Transportation, and the Highway Patrol, Sanford’s visit is meant to show the state’s preparedness and, more importantly, to encourage residents to make their own preparations, including an evacuation plan.
“You can have the best models, but given the population growth, there is no substitute for taking the initiative and leaving early,” Sanford says.
Evacuations are more efficient these days, but it still takes more than 12 hours to reach I-95. But you’ll need to know more than that to get from point Aw Damn to point Be Safe.
Coast aided by Sanford’s storm experience
Less than two months before the 2002 election, Republicans gathered at a rest stop on Interstate 26 to mark what they called Gov. Jim Hodges’ “Hurricane Floyd evacuation fiasco.”
The Democrat’s opponent that November didn’t have to look too far for a first-person account. Mark Sanford’s wife and children were among the thousands of residents that flooded the highway on Sept. 14, 1999, with Hugo-sized fears.
Some evacuees reported a 22-hour ride to get to Charlotte, while other drivers were eventually stranded on the highway without gas or food. All of it was for a storm that ultimately bypassed Charleston and headed north.
Local leaders, including Mayor Joe Riley, pleaded with Hodges to reverse the interstate’s unused inbound lanes to relieve drivers. Eventually the state responded, but it was too late.
Last week, Gov. Sanford told us that changes were inevitable after seeing the mistakes in the Floyd response. But he also had personal experience to pull from, with a beachfront home on Sullivan’s Island and a family farm in Beaufort County.
“I would say that being a governor from the coast had direct implications in regards to some immediate changes,” he says, looking back. “It’s very different if you’ve never experienced having to load up all your stuff or put it in plastic boxes or do all the stuff that people do living on the coast.”
Early changes included additional lane reversals and more water and restrooms along I-26 as a direct response to Floyd.
Technology has also advanced over the past eight years. The state uses intricate monitoring systems along major evacuation routes that include traffic cameras, as well as the ability to measure travel times.
The failings after Hurricane Katrina also offered learning experiences for the administration.
“It amped up the level of federal, state, and local focus on what can go wrong as the consequence of a hurricane,” Sanford says.
Statewide, South Carolina upgraded communications systems and addressed potential deficiencies in emergency shelters evident after Katrina. The state has also created a warehouse with provisions like water and military rations.
This year, the state is establishing a partnership with Georgia. A highway patrol liaison will cross the state line to coordinate evacuations and avoid traffic jams near the state line.
“It is constantly changing,” Sanford says of South Carolina’s emergency response.
Changes in the coming years will put our next governor to task. Of the seven candidates for governor, only one is from the coast: long-shot Democratic candidate Robert Ford.
The next governor would do well to look to Floyd’s lessons to avoid a political storm that could usher in their own early evacuation from the governor’s mansion.
Defining Your Deadly Storm
The first thing you need to understand is the difference between a hurricane and a tropical storm. Properly classifying a storm lets you know how terrified you should be. Plus, everyone knows that if you get it wrong, it only makes the storm much angrier and more likely to kill you.
Tropical Storm: A storm with winds rotating at 39 mph.
Hurricane: A storm moving on up to at least 74 mph.
Unlike people (or at least white, wealthy colonists), not all hurricanes are created equal. Fortunately, there’s a pretty simple categorization method called the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, based on a scale developed in the ‘70s by Herbert Saffir and Robert Simpson.
Category 1: The weakest of the big bad storms, with sustained winds between 74 and 95 mph. Usually, Category 1 storms don’t cause significant structural damage, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it seriously.
Category 2: Here, we’re talking about sustained winds of 96-110 mph, which are strong enough to lift a wooden house.
Category 3: We like to call it “Oh shit!” status. A Category 3 has sustained winds of 110-130 mph and is officially considered a major hurricane in the Atlantic. Buildings without a solid foundation will most likely be severely damaged or destroyed.
Category 4: Sustained wind speeds of 131-155 mph. Total destruction of manufactured homes and other structures is common, as well as significant beach erosion.
Category 5: Sustained winds of at least 156 mph. Let’s just say it’ll cause a lot of damage, and you probably shouldn’t be around to see it. Hurricane Hugo and Hurricane Katrina both peaked as Category 5 storms.
Emergency Supply Kit
Aid and supplies may not be available for up to three days after a storm due to impassable roads and the high demand for services. That means you’ve got to be able to take care of yourself.
You need medical supplies, food, and water. Flashlights, candles, lighters, batteries, and a pocketknife might be useful. Depending on how annoying your family and co-workers are, entertainment a book or playing cards (but no gambling for memaw’s dentures while she’s asleep, it’s against the law). Here at the City Paper, we feel that no kit is complete without at least one box of unopened (and, ideally, unexpired) Lucky Charms and a complete Jenga set (which is especially fun to play by candlelight). Seriously, though, your food should be high-energy and it’s also smart to include vitamins. The Charleston County Guide suggests, “prepare as if you’re going camping for three days with no facilities.” How about we just prepare as if there’s going to be a freaking hurricane?
Lastly, don’t forget cooking and eating utensils, as well as a manual can opener (so you don’t crack a tooth trying to break into that can of SpaghettiOs).
All right, let’s say that one way or another you’ve decided to split town, whether of your own volition or as part of a mandatory evacuation. Don’t think you can just drive off into the sunset. In fact, you probably shouldn’t really expect to get anywhere for the first eight hours after you leave. This may be the 21st century, but, despite the fact that we can now perform surgery using robots and carry computers around in our pockets, evacuating large amounts of people is still beyond us. Hey, we’re not blaming anyone, just pointing out the facts. Anyway, there are a few things you can do to try to lessen the headache of evacuating.
You never know what might happen or how long you’ll be traveling. Just know that it’s better to bring your own food and drink than wait in line behind 400 people at an interstate-exit McDonald’s. Additionally, make sure your car is prepared for a long trip. That means checking the fluids, and please, for goodness sake, fill your car up with gas ahead of time. If you ever want a glimpse of what hell might actually look like, it’s a packed gas station in 90-degree heat during a hurricane evacuation. —Cameron Jones