In a little more than a week, the Atlantic hurricane season will start, stretching from June 1 to Nov. 30. Government officials are worried that people will not take it seriously enough — especially in places such as Central Texas.
A hurricane that makes landfall will not hit the Austin area, of course. But hurricanes that reach the Houston area or Louisiana coast do tend to send off tendrils that can soak Central Texas, exacerbating the ever-present risk of flooding in this region of rocky terrain, thin soils and a propensity for downpours.
This summer that risk has been further heightened by the last half-year of rainy weather. The soil is already saturated.
A week ago, officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tried to emphasize this point by holding a kickoff for Hurricane Awareness Week in San Antonio. Normally, such events happen in coastal communities. Why not keep the focus on the communities most at risk? Because San Antonio, like Austin, is prone to flash flooding, and sees that threat increased when hurricanes approach the coast.
“The inland flooding threat here is very significant,” said Dan Brown, a meteorologist and warning coordinator with the Miami-based National Hurricane Center.
Various forecasts are calling for a hurricane season that could bring the typical 12 named storms, or could bring significantly more than that. The official government forecast is coming out this week. But the federal weather officials in San Antonio last week brushed aside speculation about how active this hurricane season will be. They argue there is little correlation between the number of storms that appear in a season and the major question: whether one of those hurricanes will make landfall.
“Those (forecasts) have no bearing on whether (hurricanes) will make landfall or not,” said Steven Cooper, acting director of the National Weather Service’s southern region. “And it only takes one.”
Last year, he said, Tropical Storm Bill produced flooding hundreds of miles from Matagorda Island, where it made landfall.
Cooper also noted that hurricanes increase the risk of tornadoes. They are not generally a major threat in Central Texas. But in 1980s, Hurricane Aiden spun off storms as it began to dissipate, and one of those storms caused a tornado that hit what was then Robert Mueller Municipal Airport, according to the Weather Service. The tornado caused $250 million in damage.
The Weather Service and other government agencies offered the following advice to people to prepare for hurricanes (or other severe weather):
• Check your flood insurance. And then check that against the flood hazard information available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
• Create a family communication plan. Know how you’re all going to get ahold of one another, particularly if high winds knock out cell towers.
• Remember that if you have pets, you will probably also have to care for their well-being.
• Know the evacuation routes in your community.
• Listen to local officials. And have a means, such as a NOAA weather radio, of doing so.
• Don’t panic.