My heart was deeply moved by some pictures someone alerted me to via a comment on one of these hurricane blog posts. Please take a moment and look at the damage hurricane/tropical storm Hanna did to the second biggest city in Haiti.
I know that the stripped hills and other factors make flooding occur more often and worse in Haiti than any other country in the Western Hemisphere. But, the facts are these:
1. A tropical storm when parked over a given area long enough, will produce enough rain to flood just about any location regardless of the terrain.
2. Hurricane winds are a huge part of the problems brought about by tropical storms, but wind is not the ONLY problem. Water from rain and storm surges cause as much damage as wind during many storms.
3. If the countryside has been stripped of trees and other vegetation, flooding rains will be magnified and the damage far more catastrophic than in areas where the natural vegetation is still there.
There are two types of tropical storms or minor hurricanes which can inflict major damage upon a community, county or state. First is the slow moving “wet” storms such as tropical storm Fay was last month. Fay never produced any winds which caused any damage to speak of. Yet, tropical storm Fay caused millions upon millions of dollars of damage through flooding rains which would not quit. When it rains heavily for 36 or more hours straight; there is going to be major flooding in flat areas especially.
The second “bad” storm is the one which is rapidly intensifying as it comes ashore. These storms produce much more wind damage than a slow moving or diminishing hurricane would. The classic example of this was hurricane Andrew. When it came ashore, it was going through an intensification process every bit as impressive as hurricane Ike did two days ago. No one would ever want to be near a hurricane going from tropical storm strength to category 4 in a matter of hours.
The concern with storms such as Hanna are that they are huge and that this storm will go from having “sat” in the Bahamas for days to off the New England coast in a matter of less than two days. When a storm takes off like a rocket, it rarely has time to intensify past a category 1 but its speed does tend to amplify the winds and cause more damage than a slow moving storm.
Hanna is not to be dismissed as just a bad Nor’easter. Hanna will retain the potential to become a strong category 1 or higher storm all the way until it reaches land. Last year, Humberto set a record for being the fastest storm to ever become a hurricane. It went from an area of disturbed weather south of Houston to a very strong category 1 hurricane that slammed into far southeast Texas in a matter of hours. NEVER should a tropical system be dismissed as harmless. If it is named, it needs to be watched closely.
Hanna may go down as a very minor hurricane but we do not know. In 2006, Ernesto was the only the hurricane of consequence to affect the United States due to a sudden El Nino in the Pacific. Ernesto COULD have been a huge monster storm causing untold damage if it had not lingered over Florida. If it would have had more time over the warm Gulf Stream waters, it would have exploded and come ashore as a much stronger hurricane than it did.
Because Ernesto was so lightly thought of at the time, my brother and sister-in-law went ahead and took their yearly vacation to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina RIGHT AS ERNESTO CAME ASHORE. They lived to tell about their ordeal, but they should have never been allowed to be where they were. Why the road were not closed off to traffic going to the beach is a mystery known only to those involved. If Ernesto would have slowed down and lingered by even another hour, I fear that my wife would have lost her sister that fateful day.
The best guess with Hanna is that it will produce a lot of rain and wind from the coast of North Carolina all the way up I-95 to Boston. It may not cause much damage, but it sure did in Haiti. Once Hanna makes her move then Ike can decide whether to go west into the Gulf of Mexico to harass New Orleans or move up the Florida coast to finish what Hanna started. As powerful as Ike is now, he will weaken in the days ahead. How much he strengthens again is only conjecture at the moment. The experts do expect Ike to be a major hurricane affecting someone by this time next week. Let us all pray it is not Haiti.
This year’s “GHI” hurricanes will, if nothing else will go down in history as providing hours of hair pulling stress for hurricane forecasters. In fact, if Fay if included, then the “FGHI” hurricanes most definitely will live as a testimony to the good, the getting better and the still horrible art of hurricane forecasting. Despite the great strides made the past few years in being able to determine the strength and track of storms, there is still no way to absolutely say 4 or 5 days in advance where a storm is going and how strong it will be. At least we will not have another storm “sneak up” on us like in Galveston a hundred years ago.