BEAUFORT – Hurricanes come in all shapes, sizes and threats and don’t always fit into the traditional categories for hurricane strength warnings.
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale well-known to the public gives hurricanes numerical rankings between 1 and 5 based on the strength of wind speeds.
But the warning system, first developed between 1969 and 1973, is wind-based and doesn’t necessarily fit with the forecasts for dangerous storm surge, said Jamie Rhome, lead of the National Hurricane Center’s Storm Surge Team.
Storm surge forecasts are used in evacuation decisions during a storm, and flooding from storm surge is a leading cause of fatalities during tropical storms.
“There is a need for a high-level warning system to communicate the hazard,” said Rhome, who was a featured speaker during Tuesday’s annual Hurricane Awareness Conference, held by the National Weather Service in Newport and Carteret County Emergency Services.
The event was held at the NOAA Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research in Beaufort.
Rhome spoke to the group via teleconference.
The National Hurricane Center is developing a package of new storm surge warnings to better inform the public about the hazard. The package includes new graphical maps coming out late this year or early 2014 and a new warning/watch system to be released by 2015.
The new warning/watch advisories will be separate from the current tropical storm watch and warning advisories.
Improving ways to inform the public about storm preparedness and potential threats to their community were highlighted throughout the morning program.
Speakers included Carteret County Emergency Services Director John Ford; Joy Branham, executive director of the Red Cross in five area counties; and Hal Austin and John Cole of the NWS forecast office in Newport.
Branham noted the growing use of technology and social media by the Red Cross, which has introduced a number of apps for use on smartphones and mobile devices. Included are apps for hurricane preparedness, response and first aid.
And the Red Cross is seeing use by the public.
“With the great tool of Internet technology we are able to track our digital reach. … In Onslow County, our digital reach through April was 82,000,” Branham said during a break. “That’s 82,000 times someone downloaded an app, tweeted with RedCross.org staff or commented on our Facebook site.”