Understanding hurricanes can diminish fear

23 Jul 2010 | Lance Cpl. Lia Adkins

A lack of understanding can cause fear that can lead to panic, which is why people who live on the East Coast need to have an understanding of a common destructive force; the hurricane.

            A hurricane is a cyclonic, tropical storm with winds that exceed 74 miles per hour. According to the National Hurricane Center website, hurricanes are broken down into five categories based on the severity and strength of the storm. Category One is the weakest level and Category Five is the strongest. Each has criteria to determine its strength.

            While a Category One may be the weakest of hurricanes, it comes with strong winds and waves up to five feet higher than normal. The winds range from 74 to 94 mph and are strong enough to take down tree limbs and possibly light poles.

             A Category Two hurricane is stronger. It has winds of 96 to 110 mph and causes swells of up to eight feet higher than normal. It can cause flooding and water damage in certain areas.

            “A Category Three will cause much more extensive damage,” said Cpl. Waylon Cabe, a meteorological and oceanographic forecast analyst with Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, Marine Corps Air Station New River. “I personally would evacuate my wife by a Category One, but by a Category Three, everyone should be leaving.”

            Cabe provides meteorological support to the Marine Aircraft Group 29 and 26, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Camp Johnson and Stone Bay Rifle ranges.

A Category Three hurricane carries winds from 111 to 130 mph and swells of up to 12 feet.

            “What you really need to watch for is flood damage and damage to houses, especially on the coast,” said Cabe. “You want to get your pets inside or take them with you if you evacuate, and don’t go outside, because you will definitely get pushed around.”

            Category Four and Five hurricanes can cause catastrophic damage. Winds can go more than 156 mph and cause large swells of more than 20 feet.  One of the most devastating hurricanes in American history, Katrina, was only a Category Three hurricane when it hit land.

            Aboard MCAS New River, the weather bureau is responsible for monitoring tropical storms and then reporting their progress to unit commanders aboard New River and Camp Lejeune.

            “We are basically the operational risk management assessors for the area,” said Cabe. “We get information from different weather websites like the National Hurricane Center and the National Weather Service Radar. We take their predictions, readings and satellite images and present them to the commands.”

            The Marines also use different equipment in neighboring cities to help monitor the progress of the storm and how it could affect the area. In Morehead City, N.C., there is a Doppler radar that takes scans from different levels of the atmosphere, that indicates reading of cloud formation, cloud build up also known as ‘convection,” storm intensity and precipitation. The radar has different products such as VAD wind profile and composite reflectivity and base reflectivity and several others, which weather analysts use to study storms. These readings along with information from different weather websites aid the bureau with informing the commands of weather and severe weather expected in the upcoming days.

            “If the NHC is saying the hurricane is not going to hit, but we don’t agree, we can’t just say they are wrong, we can only pass it up the chain of command and say, ‘This is what we believe and here is why,’” said Cabe. “By utilizing the chain, it would get reviewed by forecasters that have been doing this for a while, and they can analyze things like the water temperature, or if there’s a cold front that may pull the hurricane toward us. We don’t want to send any (information) out that might shut down the base if we don’t absolutely have to.” 

            With hurricane season well underway, it is important for people to understand hurricanes and what they should expect from each category so they can react accordingly.

            Cabe said the safest thing to do is to evacuate if possible and always be prepared.