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By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
It's no coincidence that September is National Preparedness Month. This is traditionally the month when the greatest number of storms occur in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
As of midday Friday, storm surges, punishing winds and torrential rain from Hurricane Florence -- the first major storm of the 2018 hurricane season -- turned some North Carolina towns into rushing rivers, CNN reports.
This Category 1 hurricane is expected to crawl over parts of the Carolinas into the weekend, pounding some of the same areas repeatedly. Some regions will get as much as 40 inches of rain, according to weather forecasts.
In North Carolina’s New Bern, Over 200 People Rescued
In New Bern, North Carolina, rescuers have already plucked more than 200 people from rising waters. But about 150 other residents who chose to wait out the storm have had to stay at home as conditions worsened and a storm surge reached 10 feet, local officials reported.
"The storm is going to continue its violent grind across our state for days," North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper warned at a news conference Friday morning.
Since 1950, More Than 60 Percent of Named Storms Have Developed in August and September
"Since official record keeping of hurricanes began in 1950, over 60% of all Atlantic named storms have developed in the months of August or September," according to Thoughtco, an information website. "One reason for this phenomenon is what is called the hyperactive African Easterly Jet (AEJ), 'an east-to-west oriented wind.'"
The AEJ flows across Africa into the tropical Atlantic Ocean, thanks to the contrast in temperature between the dry, hot air over the Sahara Desert and the cooler, humid air over the forested areas of central Africa and the Gulf of Guinea. "In late summer and early fall, there's generally an increased chance that storms will develop in the Caribbean Sea, along the Eastern Atlantic Seaboard, and in the Gulf of Mexico," Thoughtco adds.
The most hurricanes at the same time occurred in September 1998, when four hurricanes — Georges, Ivan, Jeanne and Karl — spun across the Atlantic simultaneously. That total was equaled last year by the deadly quartet of Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate.
So if we know so much about the origins of hurricanes, why aren't we better prepared to mitigate their destructiveness?
FEMA: US Citizens Lack a Culture of Preparedness
Experts say people aren’t really motivated by disaster until it comes to, or through, their door. “I don’t know what it’ll take, but disaster scenes are not enough’’ to get people to take action, Jay Baker, a retired Florida State University geographer who has studied evacuation behavior, told USA Today.
As Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrator Brock Long told a congressional hearing on preparedness in March, the U.S. lacks a "culture of preparedness.’’
Long believes that we don’t stock up on batteries, candles and water; don’t prepare a family emergency plan; or buy a hand-cranked radio. “We don’t listen carefully to warnings and often don’t understand them when we do,” he explained.
Long has been criticized for FEMA's incomplete response to the four major hurricanes of 2017 that devastated large portions of Texas, Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands and especially Puerto Rico in late August through early October of 2017. Puerto Rico still hasn't recovered completely.
Just recently, a study by George Washington University "estimates there were 2,975 excess deaths in Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria" between September 2017 and February 2018.
How successful FEMA and other first responders will be this year in keeping damages, deaths and injuries as low as possible won't be known for many months, long after National Preparedness Month is over.
But if past experience is any predictor of success, the aftereffects of Hurricane Florence will be felt well into 2019.