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Hurricane preparedness week begins May 25

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Hurricane preparedness week runs May 25-31 as an effort to educate the public about all aspects of hurricane awareness and preparedness before the season begins June 1.

Sunday, May 25 will kick off the week with the basics of hurricanes, leading into storm surge, winds, inland flooding, forecast processes, evacuation plans and after the storm as the themes for the following days.

“During hurricane preparedness week, we want people to get a better understanding of what a hurricane is, what are tropical storms, what’s a hurricane watch, what’s a hurricane warning, so the basic information will be covered early on,” said Steve Pfaff, weather coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Wilmington. “Then, we will get into the particular impacts from hurricanes … the storm surge, the winds and inland flooding.”

Spencer Rogers, North Carolina Sea Grant specialist in hurricane building resistance instruction, said storm surge is the deadliest component of most hurricanes, defining storm surge as the rise of water level by a tide.

“The worst of the ’90s was Hurricane Fran,” Rogers said. “It’s a storm surge condition that occurs about once every 120 years.”

With storm surge, he said small waves could destroy most buildings.

“You really don’t want to stay in an area where you’re going to get that wet,” Rogers said. “… Most people have an appreciation for hurricane force winds, what most people cannot appreciate is the force of waves in high velocity.”

While storm surge is potentially the most dangerous impact, Pfaff said statistics throughout the past several decades, excluding Hurricane Katrina, show many people are killed through inland freshwater flooding. Those impacts could affect residents in Lumberton and Pender County, Pfaff added.

Each year, the National Hurricane Center releases a new tool for hurricane awareness and preparedness. For 2014, the center will cover the new inundation mapping that will show potential storm surge flooding for at-risk areas.

Pfaff said last week he met with Wrightsville Beach Fire Chief Frank Smith and his department to help prepare for the upcoming hurricane season.

“This year, being the 60th anniversary of Hurricane Hazel, we’ve had a lot of hurricanes over the years, but we haven’t had a true test since Hazel,” Pfaff said. “Going back 60 years, that makes me concerned that a lot of people are going to be in for a big surprise when they see how devastating a storm of that magnitude can throw our way. Just think how the infrastructure has changed since 1954.”

In Wrightsville Beach, 89 houses were destroyed and 530 houses were damaged as a result of Hurricane Hazel.

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration will release its forecast for the 2014 Atlantic Hurricane Season Thursday, May 22, during a news conference.

In April, Dr. Philip Klotzbach and Dr. William Gray of Colorado State University released an early 2014 Atlantic hurricane season forecast showing a below-average hurricane season with an estimated nine named storms and three hurricanes.

“Whatever number does come out with this NOAA prediction on Thursday, people should plan for this hurricane season like it’s going to be the worst one ever,” Pfaff said.

For more information about hurricane preparedness week, visit www.nhc.noaa.gov/prepare

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