Hurricane Ian slammed into Florida’s Gulf Coast on Wednesday afternoon with tremendous fury, inundating communities there with heavy rain, powerful sustained winds and a devastating storm surge. The destruction was catastrophic.
Now that system, less powerful but still well organized, spins its way north, and Hampton Roads should be ready. Friday and Saturday will be very wet, very breezy and, in many places, very dangerous, and residents should act with caution.
Living in a coastal area such as this means watching the tropical forecasts throughout the June 1-Nov. 30 hurricane season. While many residents know how to prepare and what to do, it’s easy to forget the relatively high number of transplants who — because of military service, higher education and employment — come to this region without that knowledge.
After all, it’s not as though the US Navy exclusively recruits young adults who live near the water. So there are plenty of people here for whom this may be their first tropical experience.
Thankfully, forecasters predict this area won’t see the worst of what Ian can do and nothing like what Florida endured this week. But, as the remnants of Hurricane Matthew confirmed in 2016, sometimes it’s the storms that worry us least which deliver a wallop.
Recall that meteorologists predicted Matthew would turn out to be long before it neared the region. Instead it swiped across Hampton Roads, bringing downpours that an already saturated ground couldn’t handle. The result was widespread flooding that damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses.
Most people probably know to have a three-day emergency supply of drinking water (estimate 1 gallon per person per day, and don’t forget your pets), non-perishable food and prescription medication. And hopefully they also have items necessary for a loss of power — flashlights, batteries, candles — already on hand.
Virginians should also be familiar by now with the “Know Your Zone” protocol the commonwealth implemented to manage evacuation orders. The Virginia Department of Emergency Management operates a website (vaemergency.gov/know-your-zone) that is searchable by street address.
Evacuation is unlikely, but it’s vital that everyone follow any order should that announcement come. Be sure to keep an eye on forecasts, news coverage and updates from state officials through verified channels, such as the VDEM social media accounts.
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Being prepared is as important for residents and their families as it is for their communities. When a natural disaster strikes, it’s best to remain at home, safe and sound, and to avoid being a burden on first-responders if at all possible.
Forecasters expect heavy rain in the coming days and, coupled with a strong, sustained Northeast wind, Hampton Roads will see persistent and extensive tidal flooding. The wind will keep water from draining, meaning that flooding in some places could get worse even after the storm passes.
So many injuries, including fatalities, happen during tropical weather that aren’t directly attributable to severe wind but because of risky behavior — driving through floodwaters, accidents using chainsaws to clear debris, or recklessly wading into the ocean.
Don’t be a statistic. As little as 6 inches of moving water can knock over an adult and 1 foot can move a car. (To say nothing of the toxic filth in floodwater that people should avoid at all costs.) Please, stay out of the water — and keep your kids out of it too.
If you have the ability, keep an eye on the storm drains around your house and clear them of debris. Better drainage means less flooding, and that helps you and your neighbors.
Finally, be attentive to those around you who may need help — seniors and those with limited mobility, in particular. Check on them, especially if the power goes out, and help if you can.
Be smart, be helpful and stay home if you can. With a little luck, the region will avoid serious effects but, as the adage goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism