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Atmospheric ingredients ripe for
The right mix of atmospheric ingredients can turn Charleston’s gentle
ambience into a stew of nature’s wrath.
Just 19 years ago, conditions were perfect for Hugo, the last major
hurricane to hit the Lowcountry. Who could forget the trashed
structures, boats and impassable roads all the way through Charlotte;
and the constant whine of chainsaws and misery by residents whose
houses lost power and air conditioning for weeks and weeks.
Since then, the Lowcountry has been lucky. Only a few major hurricanes
have brushed near Charleston only to veer northeast and slap North
Carolina hard. In each case, when the state has responded to the threat
of a distant cyclone, MUSC has manned its stations and activated its
emergency response mode. Leading up for naught can be a downer—all that
adrenaline and planning for nothing. But not exactly.
All the planning and the near misses have contributed to critical
experiences needed to shape effective response to an actual event. Such
tropical events could have various consequences in Charleston. It
doesn’t take a hurricane to sink much of this city like a johnboat in
the ocean. A continental shelf shift, aggravated by an earthquake,
could send a tsunami washing over Charleston and curling toward a
During its history, Charleston has seen it all, except for tsunamis.
But plenty of heavy rains and high tides have closed major
thoroughfares, including many around MUSC’s campus.
Rob Fowler, meteorologist for WCBD-TV news, said that it is more likely
that the Lowcountry could host a hurricane or a tropical storm this
year due to La Nina in the Pacific. La Nina cools the water while El
Nino heats the water in the Pacific. El Nino’s affects have generated
protective fronts that move from west to east over the United States
for the past couple of seasons. La Nina will not produce the types of
strong currents and systems that could keep a storm away or divert it
out to sea, Fowler said.
In addition, the water offshore and the Gulf Stream offshore South
Carolina already has 80 degrees, which is the minimum temperature
hurricanes require for energy.
When storms begin to form, either in the Caribbean or off the west
coast of Africa, Fowler and other meteorologists begin to formulate
hypotheses on where the storm will track and to what strength. They
review various models and use their training and instincts to determine
what they believe would happen. Of course hurricanes are fickle and
even the best models cannot determine with any certainty exactly what
“The atmosphere is very fluid,” Fowler said. “And the 100-year storm is
no longer applicable. We’ve seen a number of 100-year storms within the
past two decades. Every year, we have to wipe the board clean and start
all over again.”
Whether Charleston does get hit like it did in 1989, what is more
certain are floods. Tides, new and full moons, all make for a serious
mix of implications to area residents and vacationers.
“Even if a category 1 storm hits during a new moon or full moon; or
during high tides, the results could be disastrous in some places,”
Fowler said. “So, for the public’s safety, I look at all of the data
and I balance my report and provide information that could save lives;
and that includes warnings of floods, lightening, tornadoes; not just
high tropical winds. During hurricanes, though, competition by other
stations may dictate what you do, since hyping a storm tends to drive
up ratings. But many of these storms are detected two weeks away. We
try very hard not to cry wolf, but we have a duty to report any
At MUSC, readiness teams would report to duty only if the governor
declares a mandatory evacuation. MUSC would not close unless a category
3 storm or higher is threatening the area.
The Office of Public Relations will maintain contact with area
meteorologists and emergency response agencies. The 24-hour information
phone line, 792-6872 (MUSC), would be activated and accessible in the
event of a threatening storm or other disaster where callers can obtain
pertinent information. The university and hospital also have a new
emergency notification system that includes sending messages to PDAs,
e-mail and cell phones to employees.
In the event of any disaster, including a major hurricane, the medical
center and university would activate incident response and command
centers and would enact emergency guidelines and policies. Visit
http://www.musc.edu/weatheremergency for the latest emergency weather
Weather watch—An announcement indicating weather conditions may become
hazardous within 36 hours.
Weather warning—An announcement indicating weather conditions may
become hazardous within 24 (or less) hours.
Weather emergency—An announcement indicating weather conditions have
advanced to a threatening/dangerous stage. This announcement means the
suspected dangerous weather conditions are expected to begin within
hours of the announcement.
Gale warning—Winds of 39-55 mph are expected in the area designated.
Storm warnings—Winds of 55 mph or greater are expected in the area
Hurricane watch—Hurricane conditions are possible within 36 hours.
Hurricane warning—A hurricane is expected within 24 hours.
* Became a tropical storm May 31
Friday, June 6, 2008
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