2015-06-19 / In the Know

Maine not immune to a hurricane’s powerful punch

By B. Michael Thurlow Special to the Leader

Each year hurricane season officially starts on June 1.

The week preceding that date is designated as National Hurricane Preparedness Week, when all citizens are reminded of key actions they should take to prepare if a hurricane threatens the area they live in.

Fortunately, by the time most hurricanes travel through the colder waters off the coast of Maine they weaken considerably, but that doesn’t mean we are immune to their devastation.

In the Northeast our storms are generally weaker with lower wind speeds than some of the strong compact storms that impact the Gulf or southeast coast, but they are often much larger in overall size, which means residents in a larger area of our coastline are impacted.

You only need to look at the extreme devastation that upstate Vermont dealt with during Hurricane Irene in 2011, as well as the damage Hurricane Sandy did three years ago in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut to understand that even tropical storms and minimal hurricanes are capable of doing tremendous damage.

The 2015 Atlantic hurricane outlook was recently issued by Dr. William Gray and his associates at the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University.

They are calling for a below-average hurricane season due to a strong El Nino weather pattern that helps inhibit the formation of strong hurricanes in the Atlantic. They estimate only eight named tropical storms, including three hurricanes for the Atlantic Basin, this season. Although that is good news, it is still a very long range forecast and it still pays to be prepared.

There are several potential threats and concerns with hurricanes.

Naturally, we are all aware of the extreme winds and heavy rain that cause widespread flooding. Some of those rain bands contain severe thunderstorms and even tornadoes, but the greatest threat to life and property along the coast are storm surge and large waves.

Storm surge is an abnormal rise of water generated by a storm’s winds. Storm surge can reach heights well over 20 feet and can span hundreds of miles of coastline. In the northern hemisphere, the highest surge values typically occur in the right front quadrant of a hurricane coincident with onshore flow.

More intense and larger hurricanes produce higher surge. In addition, shallower offshore waters contribute to higher storm surge inundation.

Storm tide is the water level rise during a storm due to the combination of storm surge and the astronomical tide.

For example, if a hurricane moves ashore at a high tide of 2 feet, a 15-foot surge would be added to the high tide, creating a storm tide of 17 feet.

The combination of high winds and storm tide topped with battering waves can be deadly and cause tremendous property damage along an area of coastline hundreds of miles wide.

The destructive power of storm surge and large battering waves can result in loss of life, buildings destroyed, beach and dune erosion, and road and bridge damage along the coast. Storm surge can also travel several miles inland.

The key to surviving any disaster is preparedness. There are many websites and information sources, including our own public library, with a wealth of great information on personal and business preparedness tips and recommendations that can be used to get ready for this summer’s hurricane season, as well as any other man-made or natural disaster that comes along.

If you have any questions about this article or any fire department issue, please contact me at mthurl@ci.scarborough. me.us or call 730-4201.

B. Michael Thurlow is fire chief for Scarborough.

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