Chief of city’s Emergency Preparedness Division says system in Atlantic might turn out to be good test run
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Steven Woodard, chief of the city’s Emergency Preparedness Division, is monitoring a disturbance in the Atlantic that the National Hurricane Center says is forecast to become a tropical storm on Wednesday night.
A tropical cyclone is a rapidly rotating storm system characterized by a low-pressure center, a closed low-level atmospheric circulation, strong winds, and a spiral arrangement of thunderstorms that produce heavy rain or squalls. Depending on its location and strength, a tropical cyclone is referred to by different names, including hurricane (), typhoon (), tropical storm, cyclonic storm, tropical depression, and simply cyclone. A hurricane is a tropical cyclone that occurs in the Atlantic Ocean and northeastern Pacific Ocean, and a typhoon occurs in the northwestern Pacific Ocean; in the south Pacific or Indian Ocean, comparable storms are referred to simply as “tropical cyclones” or “severe cyclonic storms”.”Tropical” refers to the geographical origin of these systems, which form almost exclusively over tropical seas. “Cyclone” refers to their winds moving in a circle, whirling round their central clear eye, with their winds blowing counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. The opposite direction of circulation is due to the Coriolis effect. Tropical cyclones typically form over large bodies of relatively warm water. They derive their energy through the evaporation of water from the ocean surface, which ultimately recondenses into clouds and rain when moist air rises and cools to saturation. This energy source differs from that of mid-latitude cyclonic storms, such as nor’easters and European windstorms, which are fueled primarily by horizontal temperature contrasts. Tropical cyclones are typically between 100 and 2,000 km (62 and 1,243 mi) in diameter.
The strong rotating winds of a tropical cyclone are a result of the conservation of angular momentum imparted by the Earth’s rotation as air flows inwards toward the axis of rotation. As a result, they rarely form within 5° of the equator. Tropical cyclones are almost unknown in the South Atlantic due to a consistently strong wind shear and a weak Intertropical Convergence Zone. Conversely, the African easterly jet and areas of atmospheric instability give rise to cyclones in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, while cyclones near Australia owe their genesis to the Asian monsoon and Western Pacific Warm Pool.
Coastal regions are particularly vulnerable to the impact of a tropical cyclone, compared to inland regions. The primary energy source for these storms is warm ocean waters. These storms are therefore typically strongest when over or near water, and weaken quite rapidly over land. Coastal damage may be caused by strong winds and rain, high waves (due to winds), storm surges (due to wind and severe pressure changes), and the potential of spawning tornadoes. Tropical cyclones also draw in air from a large area—which can be a vast area for the most severe cyclones—and concentrate that air’s water content (made up from atmospheric moisture and moisture evaporated from water) into precipitation over a much smaller area. This continual replacement of moisture-bearing air by new moisture-bearing air after its moisture has fallen as rain, may cause multi-hour or multi-day extremely heavy rain up to 40 kilometers (25 mi) from the coastline, far beyond the amount of water that the local atmosphere holds at any one time. This in turn can lead to river flooding, overland flooding, and a general overwhelming of local man-made water control structures across a large area.
Though their effects on human populations are often devastating, tropical cyclones can relieve drought conditions. They also carry heat energy away from the tropics and transport it toward temperate latitudes, which may play an important role in modulating regional and global climate.
This hurricane season, Jacksonville's emergency planners making …
The system is expected to bring rain to Florida by the weekend, and Woodard said it might turn out to be a good test run of the city’s preparedness to handle storms this hurricane season amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In fact, Woodard said the emergency operations center is changing the way it has worked in the past. This hurricane season, the EOC will guide the city virtually.
This hurricane season, Jacksonville's emergency planners making …
In the past, there were many people from various agencies on hand on the fourth floor, making key decisions on opening shelters and evacuation plans.
The concern this year is the crowds and lack of social distancing. Now, Woodard said, they are going to keep the EOC as a remote operation.
“We have gotten very good at being able to handle meetings virtually using all of the new technology that is there,” Woodard said. “We found it is effective in getting key stakeholders together.”
Instead of holding news conferences in person, with city leaders standing side by side, they will be held online through Zoom. That is how the mayor and others are currently doing briefings, which the mayor has typically been doing several times a week during the pandemic.
“It’s a very efficient and effective way of reaching out to a large number of people in coordinating whatever efforts we need to coordinate,” Woodard said
Plans for emergency shelters changing, too
With the pandemic, Woodard said plans for emergency shelters are changing, too.
While Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines will be followed and temperatures will be taken, those coming in won’t be tested for COVID-19, Woodard said.
“With testing taking a long time — a day or several days to get results — we plan on doing screening for temperatures and talking to people and determining if they’ve been exposed and are positive,” Woodard said.
He said the plan is to set up a separate area in a shelter for those who say they are positive. If they find there are many people with COVID-19 who require sheltering, the city might consider opening a shelter just for those with COVID-19.
“For this event right now, there are no plans and no need to open shelters because this verifies as a rain event with a minimal impact to Florida,” Woodard said.
The Red Cross is also making changes since this year’s storm season is very different because of COVID-19.
“Definitely a lot of changes happening. We’ve been planning for this eventuality since we went into the pandemic. We know that social distancing requires more space. It also requires us to have more people,” said Gerald Thomas, CEO of the American Red Cross North Florida Region.
During past storms, the city would open about seven shelters. But that number could be much higher this year in order to follow safety guidelines because of the virus.
That’s why the Red Cross has been working to bring in more volunteers just in case. Thomas said one of their concerns is older volunteers.
“Our primary concern is the safety of our workforce, and we want to make sure that we don’t put people in situations where they might be put into harm’s way. We’re definitely taking that into consideration and we’re looking to recruit a younger workforce, so they’re not in the most vulnerable category,” Thomas said. “We have PPE (personal protective equipment) available for those that choose to go in and work in the shelters.”
There has always been a push for people to know their evacuation zones. But this year, emergency leaders also want people to be aware that they may want to shelter in place. Instead of “know your zone,” emergency leaders want people to “know your code,” meaning is your house built to safety code?
“Understanding if your house was built up to current code or to older codes that may not afford as much protection. But if your home is up to code and is a good solid structure, under certain circumstances, we will recommend that people shelter in place at home,” Woodard said.
Copyright 2020 by WJXT News4Jax – All rights reserved.