2022 Hurricane Town Hall Recap 

By Lynn Lewis - lynnl@landings.org 
Communications Manager

The Landings Association held its annual Hurricane Town Hall Meeting on June 14. Chatham Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) Director Dennis Jones and Community Outreach Coordinator Chelsea Sawyer shared details on preparing for hurricane season, evacuating for a hurricane, and things to consider when returning home after a severe weather event. CEMA Volunteer and Landings resident Steve Brueske, a retired Meteorologist with the National Weather Service, was also on hand distributing items to attendees. Items included information booklets and things to include in a hurricane kit (e.g., sunscreen, insect repellant, hand sanitizer, mini first aid kits, and food storage containers with plastic cutlery).  

Jones shared that hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, with September being peak hurricane season. This year, the forecast calls for 20 named storms, 10 hurricanes, and five major hurricanes. Jones said CEMA watches every system that comes our way closely, making sure to look at the science, analyze the data, and make recommendations accordingly. He reminded residents never to underestimate a storm and to leave immediately when an evacuation order is issued.

“What category storm was Hurricane Matthew?” Jones asked the crowd. “It was classified as Category 1 on the edge of Tybee. However, it was a tropical storm in all other parts of our area. Think about that. A tropical storm resulted in 1.6 million cubic feet of debris and $58 million of damage in unincorporated Chatham County.”

Jones then asked the group what they considered the most significant hazard to life and property during a hurricane. Many attendees believed the answer to be wind. However, Jones shared that the correct answer is water. Because Chatham County has such a high storm surge potential, it is important always to remember this when deciding whether or not to evacuate.

“You must run from the water and hide from the wind, as more victims die from water than wind in a hurricane,” Jones said.

Jones wrapped up his portion of the presentation by sharing some historical data on hurricane activity in our area. Hurricane Andrew, which occurred in September of 1992, was a Category 5 storm, and Hurricane Floyd in 1999 was the size of Texas. He reminded residents that storms come in all strengths, shapes, and sizes, and are unpredictable. Jones urged everyone to respect the seriousness of severe weather and plan now. He then turned the presentation over to Sawyer to discuss the potential for storm surge during a hurricane and how that would look for our overall area.

Sawyer displayed updated 2021 storm surge maps that show a slightly different picture for our area (although not much better) than the 2012 maps used in last year’s presentation. She shared that the Continental Shelf in Georgia extends about 120 miles and is very shallow. When a storm surge pushes in, there is nowhere for the water to go. She added that a hurricane’s category has minimal bearing on storm surge, as each storm is unique, and sometimes weaker storms can produce more flooding than stronger ones.

She then switched gears to the Cone of Uncertainty and its meaning. Sawyer added that CEMA noticed during Hurricanes Matthew and Irma that some people worry needlessly over what is known as the Cone of Uncertainty of hurricanes. Although this cone contains the probable path of the storm center, it does not show the impact or size of the storm, which means hazardous conditions can occur outside the cone.

“Even if your area is not within this cone, I encourage you to ask yourself more clarifying questions, such as is storm surge a possibility, or could a tornado spawn from this hurricane. Whatever you do, don’t make your sole evacuation decision based on the fact you are not in the Cone of Uncertainty.”

Sawyer encouraged the group to pay close attention to all CEMA-issued information during a potential hurricane or severe weather event and steer clear of websites containing information from those who are not weather professionals. She reminded residents that Chatham County’s evacuation zones were updated a few years ago, and that The Landings falls within Zone A, which is the first group to be evacuated. She explained that a general evacuation means that the decision to evacuate is left to the discretion of individuals (though strongly encouraged). In contrast, a mandatory evacuation means personal discretion is not an option. If an evacuation order is issued, Sawyer said she urges everyone in Chatham County to leave. She shared a story of a local couple who stayed behind during Hurricane Matthew because they were concerned about their material possessions and the possibility of looters. During the storm, a tree fell on the home and killed the husband while he was sleeping. She added that many people are unaware that if you choose to stay behind during a mandatory evacuation, your life insurance may be voided.

“This is just one of many such stories,” she said. “Please remember, nothing in your home is more valuable than your life. Additionally, remember Chatham County has one of the greatest storm surge potentials on the East Coast. Knowing about this surge potential is a good reason to prepare and evacuate if an order is issued. We will not come and force you out of your homes, but there may come a point when you need emergency help and no one can get to you.”

After sharing what to expect when an evacuation order is issued, Sawyer shared the importance of having a hurricane plan now. She encouraged residents to take pictures of each room in their home and place them with evacuation items. And when evacuating, be sure to bring important documents such as bills, insurance policies, and plenty of cash with you. If the power is out, merchants may not be able to accept debit and credit cards for purchases.

When packing your hurricane kit, it is a safe bet to plan to be away from home for a minimum of three days. Sawyer urged against purchasing ready-made hurricane kits off the Internet. Rather, she encouraged taking the time to build your own with items you know you will use and will bring you the most comfort. When packing your kit, be sure to include food, medications, hygiene supplies, first aid supplies, pet supplies, and general supplies.

Sawyer then shared the reentry plan for Chatham County. As of June 1, 2018, Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) controls all reentry passes for the State of Georgia. Passes are required for phases one through three of the five-phase reentry plan. The following phases and their explanation are as follows:

  • Phase 1: Render Safe Task Force - This includes teams that work to render the area safe for first responders to conduct life and safety operations during phase 2. This phase requires a reentry permit.
  • Phase 2: Life-Safety Workforce - This phase includes first responders and others who conduct life and safety operations. This phase requires a reentry permit.
  • Phase 3: Essential Public and Private Sector Personnel - This phase includes individuals in the public and private sector who can restore essential operations, services, and commerce. This phase also requires a permit.
  • Phase 4: Local residents, property owners, and business owners - In this phase, access may be restricted to specific areas, and a curfew may be in place. This phase requires a valid, state-issued identification and an address in the impacted area or valid state-issued photo identification with proof of residency.
  • Phase 5: Open to the public with limited access - Local officials will have determined the County, or portions of the County, are relatively safe for entrance by the public. Restrictions and curfews may be used during this phase.

Sawyer encouraged residents to visit CEMA’s website (www.chathamemergency.org) when preparing their hurricane plans. On the website, residents can sign up for CEMA alerts. CEMA offers a “fast follow” text option. To register for text alerts from Chatham Emergency Management Agency, text CEMA to 77295.

The complete PowerPoint presentation from the meeting can be viewed by clicking 2022 Hurricane Town Hall Presentation.

Following are some questions and answers from the 2022 Hurricane Town Hall Meeting.

Q. What entity decides to mandate an evacuation in our area? 
A.
 The Command Policy Group is in charge of making this decision. Chatham County’s Command Policy Group includes the County Commission Chair, County Manager, and Municipal Chief Elected Officials. Municipal City Manager, Superintendent of Public Schools, Chief Judge, Chatham County Sheriff, U.S. Coast Guard Captain of the Port, and CEMA Director.

Q. How far should I go when an evacuation order is issued? 
A.
 Evacuation is personal, and there is no minimum recommended distance. The choice is up to the individual. Additionally, evacuation routes will be storm specific, so it is hard to say how far you should go or where you should go right now. CEMA closely follows the paths of all storms and will share this up-to-the-minute information with you as the weather event unfolds so you can be informed and make the best decision for you and your family.

Q. At what point do bridges close in our area?
A.
 GDOT determines when to close the bridge. However, in some extreme cases, the Chief of Police has the authority to do so. When sustained winds of 39 MPH are reached, the bridges may be closed.

Q. How does barometric pressure affect hurricanes?
A
. Meteorologists gauge the intensity and the cycling of a tropical event by the drops or rises in air pressure and wind speeds. If barometric pressure increases, the storm may be losing strength or going through a cycle of reorganizing. Alternately, the storm intensifies if the pressure goes down, gaining strength and wind speed. The lower the barometric pressure in hurricanes, the higher the wind speeds.