The Hurricane Watch – Preparedness Bulletin #8: Special Oil Spill Edition


 

Note: This edition of the Hurricane Watch comes to you courtesy of the public affairs division of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (G.E.M.A.). Special thanks to Lisa Janek-Newman, Ken Davis, Buzz Weiss & Kathy Huggins    

Preparedness Bulletin #8
                                                                                       July 8, 2010

Let Me Have “Named Storms that Begin with the Letter B” for $200, Please, Alex

The weather pattern we’ve been watching over the last month is continuing, as low pressure systems and tropical waves glide across the lower latitudes of the Atlantic, occasionally turning fractious and turbulent as they cross through the Caribbean. A low pressure system that was lurking off the coast of Louisiana earlier this week couldn’t make much of itself.

But right now, we’re eyeing a tropical disturbance that, as of this morning, is in the Gulf about 80 miles from Brownsville, TX – following the same track as Hurricane Alex last week. It’s not well organized at this time, but with sustained winds of 30-35 mph. and warm waters, it could develop into a tropical storm – Bonnie – before making landfall along the Texas/Mexico border later this afternoon, bringing more heavy rains to northeast Mexico and south Texas.

Remember, also, that these storms are large – and this one will potentially generate rough seas that impact oil spill clean-up efforts to the east.

. . . And Up Thru the Ground Came a’bubblin’ Crude

GEMA Deputy Director Donna Burns travelled to the Gulf coast last week and met with local emergency managers in the Santa Rosa County, FL Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at Milton. Her quest was to get at the unedited and uneditorialized truth from the birds’ eye view of local officials on just how the oil disaster – and the response – is progressing. And to help us here in Georgia to better anticipate the local challenges that might confront us if the spill ultimately affects us.

Donna met with the incident PIO, the planning director and other officials in the EOC, who spent more than two hours showing her the infrastructure supporting the response to the oil spill, and introducing her to the people working the incident at the local level. They also invited her to sit in on their daily conference call for local, state and federal officials to update the status of the response.

It didn’t take long for Donna to sense the level of frustration that the locals have with BP, the company’s response to the clean up – or lack thereof – and their delay in the processing of reimbursements to the cities and counties. In a conference call, she listened to a local county commission chairman who was very upset because a crew that was scheduled to clean up an area beach the night before did not show up. She sensed that this was not the first time this had happened.

She reviewed topographical maps that showed the plan of attack to protect  Santa Rosa and neighboring Escambia counties. Officials are not conceding the beaches, but they are a lot easier to clean up than the grassy marsh areas in the bays and inlets. Their main point of attack is in Perdido Pass and Pensacola Pass, where the Gulf flows into the Bay of Pensacola and Santa Rosa Sound. These are the grassy marsh areas where the oil can do the most damage to plants and wildlife. The counties are focusing their Tier 3 booming to defend these areas.

The state of Florida received $50 million from BP to pay for the Tier 3 booms and, in turn, contracted directly with local vendors for the equipment. Tier 1 and 2 booms are handled by the U.S. Coast Guard, and are placed according the USCG’s Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan.  State and local government pay directly for overtime, supplies, equipment, such as skimmers and boats, and other equipment out of their own budgets, and then submit reimbursement requests to BP.

BP claim centers are set up at several locations in the Florida panhandle, including Navarre, Pensacola and Orange Beach. A visit to the Orange Beach site revealed an insight into the administrative process for claims. People with claims must call an 800 number and register – to get the green light to talk to reps at one of the claim centers, who will provide the necessary claim forms. Or, in the case of out-of-town condo owners who do not have access to a claim center, they can call the 800 number and register over the phone. A claims adjustor will contact them directly in 3-4 days. Either way, among the paperwork and documentation required – two previous years of tax returns. A call to the 800 number was quickly answered in about 30 seconds and the entire registration process only lasted 15 minutes.  Millions of dollars have already been paid out to individuals, businesses, governments and other entities in Florida alone. At last count in Florida, alone, the BP claims totaled 23,000, and approximately $19.4 million had been paid out.

The EOC produces a daily Sitrep – at 5:00 each afternoon, along with a news release. A beach report, and audio/video of beach conditions, and an oil report are posted each morning. According to Donna, the EOC personnel are doing a “phenomenal” job under difficult circumstances and quotes one of the EOC officials who noted, “if this was a Stafford Act disaster, we would know exactly what to do. . . we know Stafford Act disasters, but we don’t know this one.”

Oh. . .and if you’re counting. . . today is Day #80.

It Can’t Be July Already!

It can. And it is.  So what does July bode for us? Well, according to the Weather Channel, July is a relatively mild month – accounting for about nine percent of the named storms in any particular year.   You can put down your calculators – we’ve already done the math.  It’s an average of one-per-July. And major hurricanes are also fairly rare in July

But we seem to relish bad news – so consider that there were five named storms in July, 2005 – the memorable season that brought us Katrina and 27 other named storms. And need we remind you that forecasters say that 2010 will be a long summer. So we’ll keep someone on the roof watching the skies.

 In Other Words. . . .

We really do put some time and effort into researching and drafting each week’s Hurricane Watch– beginning every Monday morning, looking at the Atlantic Basin, and turning to the National Hurricane Center, the Weather Channel, AccuWeather, Weather Underground and our own in-house Hurricane Program Manager and meteteorlogist Chris Walsh – to help us provide you, every Thursday, with a product you can use.

One of our goals in this effort is to take the techno-speak, and make it readable, comprehensible and relevant. We’ve learned a lot in the process. And so it was, that even we were somewhat baffled and befuddled – utterly stumped – by a recent Weather Underground reference to a “mesoscale convective complex/tropical feature.”Sounds ominous. Makes you want to check your will and make a quick trip to the nearest church confessional. So with angst and trepidation, we approached the learned Mr. Walsh – only to find comfort and to discern that it means, simply, multiple thunderstorms. I’m relieved. And you’re welcome.

Question

Last week’s question – how long is Georgia’s shoreline? That’s shoreline, not coastline – including island, rivers, etc. Most of the answers were pretty much in the ballpark. It’s right at 1,800 miles.

Today’s question – How many tropical storms or hurricanes have crossed from the Atlantic Basin into the Northeast Pacific Basin or vice versa?

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