As hurricane season closes in on St. Croix, we are reminded of the importance of hurricane preparedness here on St. Croix. While technology has made forecasting tropical storms and hurricanes more accurate, they can still be unpredictable. With extremely high winds and heavy rains, these storms often cause flooding, property damage, and sometimes even loss of life. The one thing you can do to protect yourself, your family, and your property is to be as prepared as possible for any storm situation during hurricane season.
Hurricane season is officially June 1 through November 30 each year, with September usually being the most active month. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) each year an average of 12 tropical storms, 6 of which become hurricanes, form over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, or Gulf of Mexico. The primary hazards from hurricanes (also called ‘tropical cyclones’) are storm surge flooding, inland flooding from heavy rains, highly destructive winds, tornadoes, high surf and rip currents. While hurricanes pose the greatest threat, tropical storms and depressions can also be devastating as flooding from heavy rains can cause extensive damage and even loss of life.
Living in the Caribbean means that hurricane season is part of life. Houses and buildings are generally equipped with hurricane shutters to protect against heavy winds and rain, and many are constructed of concrete to withstand decades of storms. Many residents and businesses also have gas powered generators for potential power outages. While these things are important, especially in a hurricane, there are many smaller but equally important items you should keep on hand to be prepared. At a minimum, make sure you have a Basic Disaster Kit including: plenty of bottled drinking water (at least one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days), non-perishable food (for you and your pets), any prescription medications, flashlights and extra batteries, a battery powered or hand crank radio, and a first aid kit.
Once you are in a hurricane or tropical storm ‘Watch Area’, you should do the following to prepare your home for the incoming storm:
- Frequently listen to the radio, TV or check the NOAA website for official updates on the storm’s progress
- Bring all patio furniture, potted plants, garden tools, grills, toys, and other light-weight outdoor items inside to prevent them from blowing around in high winds
- Clear out all rain gutters and downspouts, and trim trees and shrubs so that branches don’t get blown into your home in high winds
- Fuel your personal vehicles and have extra cash on hand
- Fuel your generator, and fill extra gas cans to keep on hand in case of long power outages
- Prepare to put up storm shutters on all windows and doors as soon as an official warning is issued
- Confirm you have drinking water, canned food, extra batteries, medications, and all other items needed for a Basic Disaster Kit
The U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA, and the National Weather Service have published a thorough document called Tropical Cyclones: A Preparedness Guide, which I strongly recommend that you print out and use to get ready for hurricane season. Not only does this guide give you tips and checklists for preparing for storms, but it also explains the different categories of hurricanes and how to understand the forecasts. Here on St. Croix, the Virgin Islands Territory Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) is our local source for storm alerts and advisories, and also has hurricane preparedness information available on their website at www.vitema.gov. The NOAA National Hurricane Center offers a wealth of information on hurricanes, tropical storms, preparedness and forecasting on their website as well at www.nhc.noaa.gov.
Please take the time to be prepared each year at the beginning of hurricane season so that you and your loved ones are ready whenever hurricanes and tropical storms come our way. Make sure to watch and listen for updates frequently when we do have storms forming, as they can change course and upgrade to hurricanes quickly at times. Most of all, please stay safe!
– Jennie Ogden, Editor