Hurricane Florence and Emergency Management
Guest Writer Seth Price
A few years back, I was job-shadowing at the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Albuquerque. One of the meteorologists on every shift was in charge of public information--answering the phone, making graphics for the website, and coordinating with media outlets. Often, I ended up working with the meteorologist in this role, and learned a little about how public decisions are made concerning the weather.
During the summer months, we would get calls from the Albuquerque Isotopes. They would call and ask if there were going to be storms, when they would strike, and for how long. It was vital to that organization to keep baseball players and fans safe during thunderstorms. They would call and ask how long the rain delay should last, or if they should cancel the game all together.
Thousands of fans, many of which took an evening off, depended on this decision. If the game is called, and there are no storms, then people have missed out on a nice family evening at the ballpark. The game will have to be rescheduled, and, most importantly, the meteorologist has “cried wolf” with a false alarm.
However, if the game is not called, and a storm fires, it could be deadly. It doesn’t even have to be some monster, tornadic supercell. Even a pulse-type non-severe thunderstorm will produce lightning, and could kill someone at the stadium.
It is not a decision that anyone takes lightly.
Typically, at least once a week, there is a normal weather briefing. Media outlets, outdoor venue managers, emergency managers, and law enforcement meet with the NWS to see what threats are likely for the week. That’s on a good week. As conditions worsen, these organizations are in constant communication with the NWS.
Take all of that, which we do here in Albuquerque, and multiply it by 10,000, and that is what is happening on the east coast as I write this article. For the last week and a half, multiple NWS offices, dozens of TV stations, federal, state, county and local government officials, Red Cross volunteers, amateur radio operators, and first responders have been communicating about the threat from Hurricane Florence. In fact, they are already meeting about Hurricane Helene, Tropical Storm Isaac, and two more ominous “X’s” in the Atlantic that are expected to become tropical cyclones.
Millions of people are being evacuated from the threatened areas. Highways are clogged and police are working overtime clearing accidents and directing traffic. Schools are cancelled for days at a time. Families near the coast are sorting out what belongings to bring, and which ones will not fit in their luggage and may be lost forever.
It’s a stressful time, and nobody involved in these closure and evacuation decisions is taking these matters lightly.