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Seasoned Storm Watcher Warns: 'Prepare Now'

by Community Manager

‎11-13-2013 10:02 AM

In recognition of National Preparedness Month in September, we are republishing this blog post by Bill Read, former director of the National Hurricane Center.


With Hurricane Season 2013 picking up steam — and forecasters predicting it will be an active one — I give you three things to remember: prepare, prepare, prepare.


As the former director of the National Hurricane Center, I speak from experience. And as a fellow USAA member, I speak from the heart.


Through my work with the U.S. Navy and then with the National Weather Service, I've seen firsthand the devastating effects of many hurricanes. But two very different storms stand out in my memory.


Plenty of warning . . . but many didn't listen.


Hurricane Ike occurred in September 2008 while I was the NHC director. I had a personal interest in Ike because our home is in League City, Galveston County. Ike was a large and powerful storm that gave plenty of lead time in its trek across the Gulf for people in Texas and Louisiana to prepare. Despite forecasts of storm surge in excess of 15 feet and orders to evacuate, almost 30%-40% of residents ordered to leave stayed.


Prepare for a Hurricane: Protect Your Home

Bill Read, former director of the National Hurricane Center and a former Navy Officer, shares simple tips to help protect your home before a hurricane hits.

At the time, my wife and I were in Miami where NHC is located, and our son was living in our house in League City. Needless to say, a lot of responsibility rested on Jonathan. Since our house is not in the surge risk area, he practiced "run from the water, hide from the wind" and did not evacuate. He had the necessary supplies already in place, put up the metal hurricane shutters on the windows and doors, brought in all outside furniture and potted plants, and rode out the storm just fine.


He also looked after the safety of some co-workers. After learning they didn't plan to evacuate even though they were in the surge risk zone and lived in mobile homes, he insisted they ride out the storm at our house. Mom and Dad were proud! I visited two days after Ike made landfall and was relieved to learn that other than our fence needing repair, we sustained no damage.


Who's afraid of a tropical storm? You should be.


Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 was completely different, but just as devastating for many people. Allison formed just off the Texas coast, giving us little time for preparation. Allison was uneventful as a wind or surge event, but was an overachiever when it came to rain. Most of the heavy rain fell on the Houston metropolitan area and caused record flood damage.


At that time, I was meteorologist in charge at the Houston-Galveston area National Weather Service. We lived in a different house, constructed in 1989, still in League City. Our preparation for Allison consisted of one key item: Our house was built to code — a new and improved one. After a similar storm in 1979 flooded many homes, local jurisdictions made a valuable change to building codes which has repeatedly shown to have reduced flood losses. The code change required houses in the future to be built on a 3-foot grade above street level.


So, even though Allison delivered 19 inches of rain in League City, we easily avoided flooding at our house. Even if we had experienced flooding, we wouldn't have taken a big financial hit. We had flood insurance, though our house was technically not in the flood plain and we weren't "required" to have it.


Other people were not as fortunate. The resulting flood led to more than 20 drowning deaths, flooding of more than 75,000 homes and the loss of more than 100,000 cars. Allison showed us there is no such thing as "just a tropical storm."


While these storms were very different, I distinctly remember lots of people saying, "I didn't believe it would be this bad." Social science teaches us that human nature will cause us to think, "This won't happen to me."


If you live on or near the coast, read this and know that it very well may happen to you.


As Hurricane Season 2013 picks up steam — and forecasts predict it will be an active one — I encourage you to prepare now. There are many useful guides you can read. I encourage you to take some time, figure out what you need to do — and do it. Make a plan and be ready!


Bill Read served four years as a weather officer in the Navy and then pursued a 35-year career with the National Weather Service, working more than 130 tropical storms during that time. In 2008, he became director of the National Hurricane Center, where he retired in June 2012.


Bill Read is a paid spokesperson for USAA.


Originally posted Sept. 5, 2013



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