Today marks the 2019 hurricane season’s start with officials saying now is the time to prepare.
Forecasters are saying it’s likely to be a near normal season with about 12 named storms before it ends in November, five of those becoming hurricanes and two possibly major ones.
“Regardless of predictions, we always prepare that we will get hit. It only takes one,” Wharton County Emergency Management Coordinator Andy Kirkland said.
In addition to creating the area standard hurricane kit with water, food and other essentials, preparation involves looking at vulnerabilities.
“The areas most vulnerable in Wharton County to me are the huge increases in travel trailer parks ... The folks living in travel trailers and mobile homes must realize they are not safe in their homes and must leave them in plenty of time to be out of the county prior to the onset of tropical storm winds (39 mph),” Kirkland said.
Tree growth is another concern.
“Many trees have not been trimmed in the last 40-55 years. Hurricane Michael, a Category 5 storm that hit Florida last year, had forests knocked down over 50 miles inland ... about like Hwy. 59 is from the gulf,” Kirkland said.
Although June 1 marks the start of the season, the Texas Gulf Coast typically sees storms closer to the peak of the season in late summer.
“We can’t know exactly when or where hurricanes will hit Texas, but we know for certain they will,” said Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services. “If you wait till you see one coming, you missed the opportunity to make the best preparations possible. Don’t wait. Prepare now.”
The last major hurricane that actually hit close enough to Wharton County for the winds to become a factor was Hurricane Carla in 1961.
“Hurricane Ike in 2008 hit east of Galveston, missing Wharton, but still had winds in excess of 50 MPH at our county airport. Almost 25 percent of the electric customers east of the Colorado River lost service, some up to two weeks.”
Although Hurricane Harvey caused severe damage in Wharton County, especially on the east side, it came via rain and flood waters.
“We have not had a large storm in over 50 years ... most of the people have never experienced a strong hurricane and don’t really know what to expect, don’t realize what it would be like to have no electricity for two weeks.”
Only one county removed from the coast, Wharton County will not be setting up hurricane shelters, Kirkland said, adding it’s just not safe.
“People are asked to shelter above I-10, probably in San Antonio or Austin,” he said.
Since then, the county has installed a warning system and a river gauge has been placed on the San Bernard river above East Bernard
“I think we are better prepared than before Harvey ... we have learned many things from the worst flooding this county has received in over 100 years,” Kirkland said.
But with inexperience sometimes comes confidence.
“The fact that so many people have not experienced a major hurricane will probably keep more people at home when they should probably evacuate. I’ve been told numerous times ‘my home can withstand 100 mph winds.’ I don’t doubt that, but I bet it won’t withstand a 100 mph pecan tree,” Kirkland said.
“I know evacuating is expensive, time consuming and a general pain in the rear. It may take three days for emergency services to reach all areas of the county. Area hospitals may or may not be open for business. Water and sewer may not be working. Electric lines will be down and very dangerous.
“This is why we say plan now just in case you may need to get out,” Kirkland added.
“It’s nearly impossible to know if a hurricane is approaching any sooner than five to seven days out, so it’s vital that people, especially those in coastal areas, take the time to prepare well in advance.” said Dr. Monty Dozier, AgriLife Extension special assistant for Rebuild Texas, College Station.