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All Georgians should prepare for tropical weather

By Merritt Melancon
University of Georgia

In coastal Georgia counties, early June signals the start of tropical weather season and a time of preparation and storm tracking that lasts until the end of the season in late November.

But it's not just the coast that should be preparing.

"The whole state is vulnerable to hurricane damage, from the mountains to the piedmont to the coastal plain," said state climatologist David Stooksbury.

Yes, the coast is the most immediately threatened, said Stooksbury, a professor of biological and agricultural engineering at the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

But the rest of the state is susceptible to serious wind damage and flooding from tropical weather systems that come up through Georgia's coast and through the Florida panhandle from the Gulf of Mexico.

In fact, the largest cause of loss of life during hurricanes and tropical storms is flooding and driving through flooded roads.

Inland flooding of rain-swollen streams can be just as serious as the coastal flooding caused by tidal surges and rain, said Greg Padgett, a Georgia Emergency Management Agency meteorologist.

In July 1994, Tropical Storm Alberto dumped 10 to 20 inches of rain in west and central Georgia. The rain overran the Flint, Ocmulgee and Chattahoochee rivers, flooding an area the size of Massachusetts and Rhode Island combined.

The flood forced the evacuation of more than 40,000 Georgia residents. It closed 1,700 roads, 300 bridges, destroyed 12,000 homes and businesses and took the lives of 30 people.

Alberto not only showed the danger inland counties face from tropical weather, Padgett said, it also showed all tropical weather systems can cause problems, not just hurricanes.

"Don't let your guard down," he said. "Don't say it's not a hurricane, so I don't have to be worried. It's not the intensity of the storm. It's the forward speed, as far as flooding is concerned."

Stooksbury said that even a tropical depression can drop devastating amounts of rain on an area and cause wind damage, too.

"People should pay attention to any tropical weather storm or depression," he said. "They should be prepared for tropical weather seasons -- not just hurricanes."

Stooksbury offered these tips for preparing your family and home for this year's tropical weather season.

  • Make sure you have flood insurance to cover your home, crops and business. Flood insurance is available from the government at this Web site: 001D www.fema.gov/nfip/ index.htm 054E .
  • When you hear that tropical weather may be coming, get your home prepared. Tie down anything that could be blown away and tape your windows, so they won't shatter.
  • Make sure you have a safe place to put your animals, whether you are going to stay or evacuate. This applies not only to livestock, but to your pets as well.
  • If you live in a coastal area, know your county's emergency evacuation plan and what shelter you plan to go to after you evacuate. If you have pets, remember to find a shelter that allows pets.
  • Finally, your whole family needs to have a contact person who lives outside the region being hit. That way, when everyone's scattered and evacuating, they can check in with this stable person and distribute news about everyone's whereabouts and condition.

(Merritt Melancon is a student writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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