Alabama Power is urging customers to prepare for the possibility of more severe tropical weather this week as the company prepares its crews to respond quickly and safely following the storm.
Weather forecasters are predicting Tropical Storm Sally will make landfall Tuesday in the northern Gulf of Mexico as a hurricane. Meteorologists at the Alabama Power-USA Coastal Weather Research Center at the University of South Alabama are providing frequent updates about the storm to Alabama Power and other businesses around the Southeast. Steve Kirkham, general manager of Power Delivery for Alabama Power’s Mobile Division, says that information helps his team place crews and resources in areas where they can respond safely to storm damage.
“We are fully prepared to respond,” Kirkham said. “We’re going to do that in a safe and effective manner. Our customers can count on the fact that we are going to respond just as quickly as we can safely do so.”
Alabama Power has implemented additional safety measures during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure the continuity of services and the well-being of its employees and the public. The company is asking the public to help maintain a safe social distance of 6 feet from crews and field representatives, allowing employees to safely continue to serve customers.
“We have incorporated all of the COVID-19 precautions into our hurricane plans,” Kirkham said. “Even something as simple as onboarding mutual assistance partners – in the past we would have face-to-face meetings to do all of that and now we are doing that in advance remotely.”
Sally is not the first tropical cyclone to affect the northern Gulf Coast this year. Tropical Storm Cristobal made landfall in early June, dumping lots of rain on the Alabama Gulf Coast, and then Hurricanes Marco and Laura made landfall in Louisiana in August. More than 350 personnel from Alabama Power just returned from Louisiana and Texas where they helped restore service following the catastrophic damage caused by Hurricane Laura. Crews also traveled to New Jersey, following Tropical Storm Isaias, and Illinois, where they assisted communities affected by a damaging derecho wind event. Kirkham says the company is honored to help others when needed.
“That’s one of the reasons we take such pride in going to assist others,” Kirkham said. “We know when we answer that call that they are going to respond and answer that call when we call upon them.”
Preparing for a hurricane
The threats from hurricanes to you and your family can vary widely depending on where you live.
Along the coast, storm surge is often the greatest threat to life and property from a hurricane. Storm surge is produced by water being pushed toward the shore by the force of the winds moving cyclonically around the storm.
Hurricanes and tropical storms can cause flooding in every county of Alabama.
— NWS Mobile (@NWSMobile) May 4, 2020
Tropical hurricanes often produce widespread, torrential rains in excess of 6 inches, which may result in deadly and destructive floods. Flash flooding, defined as a rapid rise in water levels, can occur due to intense rainfall. Longer-term flooding on rivers and streams can persist for several days after the storm.
Rainfall amounts are not directly related to the strength of tropical cyclones but rather to the speed and size of the storm, as well as the geography of the area. Slower moving and larger storms produce more rainfall. In addition, mountainous terrain enhances rainfall from a tropical hurricane.
Tornadoes and damaging wind
The wind from a hurricane can cause tornadoes and damaging wind gusts across all of Alabama.
— NWS Mobile (@NWSMobile) May 4, 2020
Hurricane‐force winds, 74 mph or more, can destroy buildings and mobile homes. Debris such as signs, roofing material, siding and small items left outside become flying missiles during hurricanes. Winds can stay above hurricane strength well inland. In 2004, Hurricane Charley made landfall at Punta Gorda on the southwest Florida coast and produced major damage well inland across central Florida with gusts of more than 100 mph.
Hurricanes and tropical storms can produce tornadoes. These tornadoes most often occur in thunderstorms embedded in rain bands well away from the center of the hurricane; however, they can occur near the eyewall. Usually, tornadoes produced by tropical cyclones are relatively weak and short-lived, but they still pose a significant threat.
Tropical storm winds, 39 mph or more, are strong enough to be dangerous to those caught in them. For this reason, emergency managers recommend completing evacuations before the onset of tropical storm-force winds, not hurricane-force winds.
What you need in a hurricane emergency kit
Just having enough supplies to make it through a hurricane isn’t enough. You need plenty to make it through what could be a long recovery period, too. Storm damage could block your access to supplies for days. That’s why you and your family need enough supplies to last a minimum of three days.
Here is what your storm-ready kit should include:
- Nonperishable food.
- Water (1 gallon per person per day for drinking and sanitation).
- Extra cash.
- Battery-powered radio.
- NOAA weather radio with tone alert.
- Extra batteries.
- Portable crank-powered or solar-powered USB charger for cellphone.
- First-aid kit.
- Whistle (to signal for help).
- Dust mask (to help filter contaminated air).
- Plastic sheeting and duct tape (to shelter in place).
- Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties (for personal sanitation).
- Wrench or pliers (to turn off utilities).
- Manual can opener (for food).
- Local maps.
Store items in airtight plastic bags and put them in one or two easy-to-carry containers, such as plastic bins or a duffel bag.
Additional emergency supplies
Since spring 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended people include additional items in kits to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, other viruses and the flu. Consider adding the following items to your emergency supply kit based on your individual needs:
- Cloth face coverings (for everyone ages 2 and above).
- Hand sanitizer.
- Disinfecting wipes to disinfect surfaces.
- Nonprescription medications, such as pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medication, antacids or laxatives.
- Infant formula, bottles, diapers, wipes and diaper rash cream.
- Pet food and extra water for your pet.
- Important family documents, such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records saved electronically or in a waterproof, portable container.
- Emergency reference material, such as a first-aid book.
- Sleeping bag or warm blanket.
- Complete change of clothing, including a long-sleeve shirt, long pants and sturdy shoes.
- Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper (dilute nine parts water to one part bleach to make disinfectant).
- Fire extinguisher.
- Matches in a waterproof container.
- Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items.
- Paper cups, plates and plastic utensils.
- Paper towels.
- Paper and pencil.
- Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children.
How to prepare your home for a hurricane
There is a lot you can do around your home to help protect it from hurricane winds.
Just like an emergency supply kit is essential for surviving a storm, preventive maintenance and repairs to your home can give it the added strength it needs to withstand significant damage. The following suggestions should be completed well ahead of an approaching storm because supplies may become scarce when a storm approaches land.
Patio and yard inventory
If a high-wind event comes your way, you will need to bring in or anchor any items outside of your home that could become dangerous flying projectiles. To make sure you don’t miss anything at the last minute, create a checklist of all of the items you will need to take inside.
In a high-wind event, anything can become a dangerous flying object. Take a day to make your landscaping more hurricane-resistant. Activities include replacing landscaping rocks with mulch or trimming tree limbs hanging over your roof. Make sure to stay away from power lines.
Along with strong winds, hurricanes bring heavy rains. Your gutters are there to direct rainfall away from your home and prevent flooding. This works only if your gutters are clear and in good shape. Clear out leaves or other debris and replace broken gutter pieces.
Soffits are designed to keep water out of your house. Properly installed soffits should stay in place in most high-wind events, so apply suitable caulking and screws to make sure yours will stand up to a hurricane.
Enhancing roof sheathing attachment
You can improve your roof’s resistance to uplift by applying the right caulk. To reduce your risk of heat exhaustion and dehydration, do this when your attic is at its coolest, such as early morning hours.
Measure for temporary emergency plywood shutters
If a hurricane is headed your way and you do not have preinstalled hurricane shutters, you are going to want to board up windows with plywood shutters. To make the process easier, measure all of the windows in your home that need protection. You will then want to get all of your plywood cut and labeled to make installation easier if a storm is closing in.
If you plan to ride out a hurricane in your home, make sure it is up to local hurricane building code specifications. Remember, the garage door is the most vulnerable part of the home, so it must be able to withstand high winds. You should also find a safe location for your vehicle.