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Rudi Kiefer: Hurricanes, tropical storms bring small annoyances, too
Rudi Kiefer

Hurricanes and their weaker cousins, the tropical storms, are one of nature’s odd inventions. Instead of involving continent-size air masses, tropical storms and hurricanes are the atmosphere’s transfer trucks. Large loads of heat combine to form a circular system. Among the dire warnings about Irma’s wind, torrential rain and flash flooding came the good news that no tornado activity was expected.

Hurricanes produce tornadoes at times, but it’s not very likely. However, they pack so much energy that their size can be enormous. A quick rough measurement on Google Earth showed that Irma was 540 miles in diameter while moving across Florida. 

Even with its destructive winds, and the more dangerous rise in ocean level at the shore called storm surge, tornadoes weren’t one of the worries. Irma didn’t have the brutal mixing action of air masses that we’ve seen in the Tuscaloosa or Ringgold tornadoes in recent years.

News coverage has shown what the aftermath of tropical systems looks like. But less attention is usually paid to the common annoyances that follow. In my own notebook, primary ones are bee stings, flat tires and getting stuck in the mud. 

After a heavy windstorm, the ground is littered with wasps’ nests. People are trying to clear the yard of fallen branches. Getting too close to the angry nest owners, and to ground-dwelling yellow jackets, makes bee stings one of the most common injuries after tropical storms. 

Vehicles get their own version of it during weeks of home rebuilding. Roofers are busy everywhere, and countless nails fall off pickup trucks. Many find their way into car and motorcycle tires. 

After a hurricane on the North Carolina coast, I had eight flat tires in quick succession. 

In North Georgia, dirt roads are usually cut across red clay. The surface gets extremely muddy following heavy rain, and it’s easy to get the wheels stuck. Resist the temptation of stomping on the accelerator. Spinning the wheels will only make things worse. 

I learned a remedy on snow-covered roads during northern winters. Let most (but not all) of the air out of the tires. With a careful back-and-forth rocking maneuver, the tires often gain enough grip again to move the vehicle out of the mud. The next step would be a slow, gentle drive to the nearest service station for restoring proper air pressure.


Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays.

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