NOAA image of Hurricane Katrina
NOAA image of Hurricane Katrina

Are you prepared for an above-normal hurricane season?

Understanding hurricanes and tools for preparedness and safety.

While Savannah is no stranger to hurricanes, many residents have become somewhat apathetic to the topic. Many have experienced evacuations that, to them, didn’t feel necessary because local impacts were in stark contrast to the advisement of local leaders. However, those of the “I will never evacuate again” camp are being urged by experts this year to change their tune.

Are you prepared for an above-normal hurricane season?
Chelsea Sawyer, Emergency Preparedness Manager for the Chatham Emergency Management Agency

“The experts are saying that it is anticipated to be an extremely active hurricane season,” warned Chelsea Sawyer, Emergency Preparedness Manager for the Chatham Emergency Management Agency (CEMA). “One of my biggest concerns is people not taking evacuations seriously.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Weather Service forecasters at the Climate Prediction Center predict above-normal hurricane activity in the Atlantic basin this year. The 2024 hurricane season, which spans from June to November predicts an 85 percent chance of an above-normal season. In 2023, NOAA predicted that there was only a 30 percent chance that the season would be above normal.

According to Sawyer, residents should not find comfort in comparing warnings to previous hurricane seasons.

“These storms aren’t the same storms that came 10, 15, and 50 years ago,” she explained. “Every storm is going to do something different. I don’t want anyone to risk their lives.”

While the predictions this year may yield more disastrous results, it doesn’t really change what CEMA does to prepare. As Sawyer notes, emergency management 101 is to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. CEMA has five highly-trained duty officers on rotation at all times who work to track every storm that comes through and stay abreast with the National Hurricane Center’s tropical weather outlook.

“Every single storm that pops up, we’re going to watch it,” said Sawyer. “It’s monitored 24/7 and there is a lot of coordination and communication with partners.”

One of those partners is Macon-Bibb County, which has become the new evacuation destination for Chatham County under the updated statewide plan that matches every county with hurricane-impact potential with an inland partner county; the previous government-assisted evacuation destination was Augusta-Richmond County. CEMA has also partnered with the newly-constructed Enmarket Arena, which has become the new meeting point for Chatham County residents needing evacuation assistance.

Understanding these changes and the overall terminology regarding hurricane evacuation orders, per Sawyer, is much more beneficial than the hurricane warning levels, which are not as preemptively helpful. Unlike tornadoes—which also have watches and warnings that range from conditions are favorable to a tornado has been spotted—hurricane watches and warnings both mean that hurricanes are coming, the only distinction being the advance notice timing of 48 hours versus 36 hours or less.

“By the time we get to watches and warnings, those evacuation orders are already in place,” explained Sawyer.

According to her, what residents really need to pay attention to is whether an evacuation order or a mandatory evacuation order has been issued. An evacuation order encourages residents to evacuate, while a mandatory order requires it. However, it’s important to note that not all areas of Chatham County may be evacuated at the same time or equally. Evacuations are determined in zones.

Are you prepared for an above-normal hurricane season?
Chatham County Evacuation Zones

A great tool to find and learn these zones is the CEMA website’s evacuation page and their interactive map, which can be found at chathamemergency.org.

So, how do you know the status of a hurricane and evacuation orders? There are several websites, apps, and tools that can be used. While not a complete list, below are some popular and highly-recommended resources:

Sawyer recommends being signed up for at least one alerting mechanism, but notes that she herself uses multiple alerts and apps. Residents can also follow all the listed agencies on Facebook and Twitter.

For a comprehensive list of tools, tips and information, as well as access to presentations, visit chathamemergency.org.

     

Brittany Herren

Brittany Herren is a freelance writer and a passionate supporter of the local art and music scenes. As a musician turned 30-something professional executive, she lives vicariously through her story subjects and usually writes while listening to 60s, French pop or Patsy Cline. Herren has a B.A. in English from...
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