Last week's horrific tornado, which killed 24 people in Moore, Okla., served as a reminder that the southern United States is in its severe weather season. For those of us who remember the scenes following Hurricane Katrina and the federal floods nearly eight years ago, the televised images of destruction, despair and hopelessness were all too familiar. Sadly, the people who live around Oklahoma City had been there before — in 1999, when a tornado outbreak killed dozens of people and devastated Moore. There's not much you can do when a twister of that magnitude is bearing down on your house, but preparation can and does save lives.
This week is the National Hurricane Center's (NHC) annual Hurricane Preparedness Week, and longtime New Orleans residents know that means it's the time for an annual review of hurricane readiness preps. The many people who have moved to New Orleans in recent years should remember that a hurricane's intensity on the Saffir-Simpson scale is a relative thing. A strong tropical storm requires as much attention and preparation as a major hurricane. Last year's slow-moving, rain-soaked Isaac was a tropical storm, yet many people in metro New Orleans were left without power for a week.
William Gray of the Colorado State University Department of Atmospheric Science is predicting a slightly busier-than-average hurricane season, with 18 named storms and nine hurricanes. Our mild spring has nothing to do with what New Orleans may or may not see this year in the way of tropical events.
"Many hurricane forecasters are predicting this to be an above-average season," says WWL-TV meteorologist Derek Kevra. "A lot of the time, people think a cool spring like the one we just had means the water in the Gulf of Mexico is going to be cooler, but that is not the case. It has no bearing on hurricane season."
This is the time for locals to check on stockpiled supplies, replenishing and replacing as necessary. Get fresh packs of batteries for flashlights and battery-powered radios or TVs; eat the canned goods you've stocked and replace them with new ones. (Don't forget the manual can opener.) Stock up on bottled water for drinking as well as washing — the guideline is at least 1 gallon per person per day, with a three-day minimum. Some people fill their bathtubs to ensure a water supply. Other essentials include a tool kit, medicines, fire extinguisher, large garbage bags, a change of clothes and shoes. Keep some cash on hand.
For people with small children, a supply of diapers and toys is a must (and an iPad or DVD player with headphones can be a sanity saver). Pet owners need a supply of food, a carrier and proof of up-to-date vaccinations. Find out if your shelter of choice takes pets — but under no circumstances stay put during an evacuation because you aren't sure what to do with your pets. Get out and take them with you.
Keep your car gassed up from June through November. Get your car inspected in early June and be sure to change the wiper blades. A container of wet wipes in the car is a good idea, along with a trash bag; evacuations are long and it's not always possible to leave your vehicle. If you evacuate, take important papers (including insurance information) as well as family photos — many of us learned that one the hard way during Katrina. And put a spare cellphone charger in the car now — we relearned that lesson last year during the blackouts after Isaac.
Check with elderly or infirm neighbors to verify their evacuation plans. In a mandatory evacuation, freeways will switch to "contraflow," meaning all roads will lead away from the coast. Whether you're going to a motel, staying with family or at a shelter, practice patience — and plan ahead.
You can get more tips and sign up for text alerts at the City of New Orleans hurricane preparedness website, ready.nola.gov (which performed well last year) as well as at the Entergy New Orleans' website (www.entergy.com). And the NHC has issued an updated guide to preparing for hurricanes; download yours at www.bit.ly/prepare2013.
Most important, pay attention to local meteorologists so you can plan early — and if you're told to leave, do so.
— Our partners at WWL-TV will air their annual "Eye on Hurricanes" special June 3 at 7 p.m. The broadcast will repeat during the week and can be watched at www.wwltv.com. You can download the free WWL-TV weather app for mobile devices including iPhone, Android and BlackBerry.