Tracking the Tropics: Surviving the Season

Tracking the Tropics: Surviving the Season is your complete guide to the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.

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WRAL Severe Weather Center

Tracking the Tropics: Surviving the Season is your complete guide to preparing for the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season during a pandemic.

Looking back: Three deadly hurricanes in four years

In 2016 and 2018, Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Florence brought widespread torrential rain to North Carolina, leaving homes and interstates underwater. In 2019, Hurricane Dorian cut off a part of the coast from the rest of the world.

Matthew and Florence both moved slowly, which helped generate catastrophic, record rainfall. When Matthew hit in early October 2016, it generated double-digit rainfall totals in the Fayetteville area, prompting river flooding. Most of the 28 people killed as a result of Matthew drowned during or after the storm.

Florence was even more devastating, producing an astounding 35 inches of rain in Elizabethtown and 26 inches in Wilmington. Thirty-six people in total lost their lives in North Carolina.

The 2019 hurricane season will forever be linked to Hurricane Dorian, which reached Category 5 strength, making it the most powerful tropical system on record to strike the Bahamas, where it stalled for days before tracking parallel to the East Coast and clipping the Outer Banks as a Category 1 hurricane.

Some residents were trapped in their attics on Ocracoke Island due to a 4- to 7-foot storm surge, Around 190,000 people lost power, and three people were killed in North Carolina. Several tornadoes touched down in Eastern North Carolina, including an EF-2 in Emerald Isle, where homes and campers were destroyed.

The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season continues to progress at record pace.

Hurricane season officially starts on June 1 and ends on Nov. 30, with the most severe storms occurring from mid-August to late October.

As of July 24, eight named storms had formed – Arthur, Bertha, Cristobal, Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gonzalo and Hanna. Gonzalo was the first hurricane of the 2020 season. Track the tropics anytime with WRAL's interactive tracker.

Tropical Storm Arthur came two weeks before June 1, the official start of hurricane season. It developed in south Florida and moved over the Atlantic before bringing several inches of rain to the Outer Banks.

Tropical Storm Fay formed off the Carolina coast in July, stirring up rip currents off our shore before making landfall in New Jersey. Tropical Storm Cristobal made headlines in early June ahead of a landfall along the Gulf Coast, prompting conversations about preparing for a natural disaster during a pandemic.

State officials are urging people to take shelter at a hotel, friend or family member's house this year if they need to leave their homes.

During Hurricane Florence, a shelter at Southeast Raleigh High School housed 450 people. But due to the coronavirus, new rules say every person staying in a shelter must have 115 square feet – that’s about a parking space and a half.

When Hurricane Florence targeted Wilmington in September 2018, Ann Taylor told WRAL she knew it was time to take shelter at Southeast Raleigh High School. This year, due to COVID-19, she said she would make other plans, like staying with family.
North Carolina Emergency Management Director Michael Sprayberry said the state is working on a plan on how to handle emergency sheltering during a pandemic. So far, the NCEM has access to over 30,000 hotel rooms across the state, which will be used to minimize contact between evacuated families.

In 2018, the American Red Cross housed 22,000 people in 122 emergency shelters before, during and after Florence. Due to the pandemic, they will have less space and offer fewer resources so there is less sharing of items. This year, they are asking people to bring everything they need, including food and bedding.

"We’ll be lessening the number of people in a particular shelter to the best extent possible," said American Red Cross Regional CEO Barry Porter. "But the most important part is people have to get out of the storm. People have to be safe."

COVID-19 impacts on the economy

Months after Hurricane Dorian hit the Outer Banks, businesses there shut down due to coronavirus pandemic. But despite COVID-19, June brought nearly 400,000 visitors to Cape Hatteras, a number not seen in June since 2002.

Officials believe the increase in visitors has to do with the ability to remain socially distanced in the area. With 70 miles of shoreline, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore is the longest stretch of undeveloped beaches left in the eastern U.S.

Flooding is the second leading cause of fatalities from tropical systems. Torrential rain from tropical cyclones can cause flooding hundred of miles inland that can last for days.

During Hurricane Florence, 17 people died due to inland flooding, and billions of dollars in damages were reported.

To help North Carolinians determine the risk of flooding in their own home, the Flood Inundation Mapping and Alert Network, or FIMAN, was created. Using your address or location, the website shows real-time data on all stream water levels nearby. When flooding is forecast, the map will indicate which areas could be impacted by the flood down to your street.
No matter where you live, the state's new Know Your Zone initiative can simplify the evacuation process for local officials, residents and visitors.

Some counties have only one zone, while others can have up to five.

Zone A is red, Zone B is orange, Zone C is purple, Zone D is green and Zone E is blue. Zone A is most at risk for storm surge and flooding and will typically be the first evacuated, followed by B.

Only on WRAL: New forecasting technology

The WRAL Weather team is using new and exclusive model forecasts this year to give you and your loved ones as much time as possible to prepare for severe weather.

Often, WRAL meteorologists use a European model to forecast tropical systems because, on average, it is the most accurate model in the world.

Now we’re able to run the European model several times in a row, changing the initial numbers slightly each time, to account for uncertainty that weather brings. The outcome is a range of possibilities in different weather situations.

Using this new information, WRAL meteorologists can find the probability that a tropical system will develop or strengthen.

The tool is useful in predicting not only if tropical systems will form but also the likelihood that they will strengthen into a tropical storm or hurricane.

Rip currents

WRAL meteorologist Elizabeth Gardner reminds us that rip currents can threaten swimmers even when beach conditions are sunny and a tropical system is thousands of miles offshore.

Rip currents contribute to 80% of surf rescues in the Carolinas. In North Carolina, we average 10 rip current deaths every year.

Avoid swimming when rip current flags are posted or on beaches without lifeguards. If you get caught in a rip current, float on your back or swim parallel to the shore until you are safe. Call for help if you see someone in trouble.

Getting ready and recovering from a hurricane

Aside from preparing your hurricane survival kit and subscribing to WRAL severe weather updates, 5 On Your Side's Monica Laliberte shares three things we all need to know to make the process a lot less stressful.
1. Whether you own or rent, insurance plays a critical role. Reevaluate your insurance policy. When was the last time you checked coverage limits on your home and your belongings? If you've remodeled or purchased new electronics or furniture, it's important to account for those items.
2. Use your cellphone to document your belongings. Take photos and video of almost everything you own -- including appliances, dishes and even clothes and towels. Go from room to room, moving slowly, so that you'll actually be able to see the things you have if you need to file a claim. Email your video and photos to yourself so you can access them at any time.
3. Consider flood insurance. Regular homeowners policies don't cover flood damage. It's important to note, flood policies don't take effect until 30 days after the purchase.


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