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Column: Hurricanes remind us of added danger of pandemic
Rudi Kiefer

Striking the Texas/Tamaulipas(Mexico) border last week, Hurricane Hanna reminded us that we’re in the season of tropical weather. After Isaias, Josephine and Kyle will be the next systems to come. There’s no way to make a long-term forecast about where exactly they will go. If the Atlantic Coast is on the itinerary of these three, or if their successors Laura, Marco and Nana pay our state a visit, Georgia will face challenges that we didn’t see in previous years.

Social distancing during and after a hurricane is virtually impossible. Locals and tourists who didn’t leave in time before the storm may find themselves in crowded conditions at a hotel or public building serving as a hurricane shelter. First responders who must extricate people from flooded buildings can’t maintain 6 feet distance while doing so. Wearing a protective mask while wading through flooded roadways with a bunch of other people may be impossible as well. The ocean-born storms still coming this summer make it more necessary than ever to know the facts.

It seems obvious that one should leave an area when officials order evacuation. But experience has shown that many choose to ignore this. Among college-age groups, driving to the beach for a “hurricane party” has traditionally been a popular sport. For wise people who are willing to leave the coast when a tropical storm system approaches, a few guidelines apply. Once an evacuation is called for, it’s not time to pack.  It’s time to leave. One needs to determine what to take along, and which route to travel, well before the storm’s landfall. Highways leading away from the coast, near Savannah and Georgetown for example, may flood and trap late travelers. There again, they may be stuck in a crowded place with no way to protect themselves from the current epidemic.

Good weather forecasts show the likelihood of landfall in a given place as a percentage value on a map. It’s important to watch for changes in those numbers. A rapid increase, say from 30% to 50%, sharpens the focus on an area. If you see such a trend for your current location, with a hurricane approaching from the ocean, it’s time to leave. Hotel rooms may be scarce even at distant towns. But an uncomfortable night far away from the coast beats one in a crowded shelter near the beach.

 

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor at Brenau University, teaching physical and health sciences on Brenau’s Georgia campuses and in China. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.

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