Hurricane Sandy churns off the East Coast on Oct. 28. (AFP/Getty Images)
As many as 20 named storms are expected to form this hurricane season
Cities all along the Gulf and East coasts are heading into what's expected to be a whopper of a hurricane season, but are better prepared with newly revised evacuation zone maps.
Previous maps were ready for an overhaul, and the new maps incorporate the latest population, development and elevation data.
Thanks to updated storm-surge information from the National Hurricane Center, cities such as New York and Miami are ready with new maps to help guide emergency managers and the public in case a dangerous hurricane approaches and evacuations become necessary.
New York City's new evacuation zones, for instance, broaden the areas to be evacuated to include a total of 2.9 million people, 37% of the city's population, an increase from the 29% who were in the previous evacuation zones. "There are 600,000 people in an evacuation zone now that weren't before," says Christopher Miller of the city's office of emergency management.
In New York City, the updated zones are now called Zones 1 to 6, which replace the old Zones A, B and C. (Residents in Zone A, which included coastal regions of all five New York City boroughs, were ordered evacuated during Hurricane Sandy last October.)
"We're ready to go with the new zones for this and all upcoming hurricane seasons," says Miller.
Even though the ferocity of Sandy may have called attention to this issue, Miller says the city had plans to update the maps and zones even before Sandy hit.
What's different now? The new hurricane evacuation zones use information from a recently updated computer model the hurricane center developed that accounts for larger and slower-moving storms, according to New York's office of emergency management.
Indeed, the U.S. has been battered by very large hurricanes recently, such as Isaac, Ike, Katrina and Sandy, all of which have produced a big storm surge, according to Jamie Rhome, storm surge specialist at the hurricane center.
Additionally, the new model incorporates improved, more accurate elevation data obtained over the past few years and also assumes that the storm surge will coincide with high tide, a worst-case scenario.
"We plan for a worst-case scenario. In order to achieve this, we ran larger storms in our model," says Brinkley.
Also, these new evacuation maps have nothing to do with the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps, which are primarily used for insurance purposes, Miller says.
All hurricane evacuation maps are based entirely on ocean water flooding from storm surge, and don't deal with heavy wind or flooding from rain, Rhome says.
Thanks in part to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which ranks hurricanes from Categories 1 to 5, "the nation has been enamored with wind for decades," says Rhome. "We're trying to get people focused on storm surge, which takes the largest number of lives and is the basis for evacuations."
Sandy, for instance, was classified only as a Category 1 hurricane as it neared landfall in New Jersey. And yet storm surge pushed water as high as 9 feet into lower Manhattan.
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SOURCE: USA Today