LEXINGTON — Most people lose interest in tracking hurricanes after they move away from the coast, but that is actually when they are deadliest, according to national weather officials.

The National Weather Service, along with other national and state agencies, hosted a three-day Regional Tropical Training and Exercise at River Bluff High School in Lexington from Tuesday to Thursday. The training on Tuesday focused on how communities can prepare for hurricanes and similar storms.

Daniel Brown, a senior hurricane specialist and warning coordination meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center, said 57% of hurricane deaths in the last 10 years are due to inland flooding. Storm surges, the next most common cause of death, make up only 11%.

“Storm surges can still cause a tremendous loss of life in a single day,” Brown said. “But we’re losing an awful lot of people to inland flooding.”

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The public and local officials often use the Saffir-Simpson Scale to determine how strong hurricanes are, but that categorization can be misleading, according to Jamie Rhome of the National Hurricane Center.

The Saffir-Simpson Scale ranks hurricanes into categories based on wind speed. However, Rhome said, wind speed does not always correlate to rainfall, the biggest threat to inland communities.

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As a result, even as a storm appears to be weakening, it can still devastate communities and kill people.

The scale does have its uses, particularly when a storm is getting stronger, according to Rhome.

“As a storm is rapidly intensifying, it’s a very effective tool to ring the bell on society and say, ‘Hey, no, this one’s going to be bad,’” he said.

People often assume that storms that destroy communities are Category 5s but the reality is that storms at lower categories are just as dangerous, Rhome and other instructors said. Category 5 storms are very rare.

The winds of a Category 3 storm can begin to destroy a typical home, according to Rhome. As American society becomes increasingly reliant on electricity, even category one storms can have big effects on communities by taking down electrical lines, he said.

A storm’s destruction is caused by more than just its wind speed: Waves, tornadoes, storm surge and inland flooding causes just as much or more damage.

Storm size, speed and direction all contribute to the damage a storm can do. Smaller storms with low winds may not seem like a big deal, but if they move slowly over a city, they can flood streets and rivers.

Hurricanes can cause two types of flooding: flash flooding and river flooding. Each presents its own challenges, according to Jeff Dobur. He is a senior hydrologist with the National Weather Service’s Southeast River Forecast Center.

Flash flooding comes and goes quickly. Flash floods may be less destructive than river flooding, but they are harder to warn the public about.

River flooding is slower to develop but also slower to leave, which can cause significant damage to structures in otherwise dry areas. As the name suggests, rivers overflow with rainwater, which comes up over banks.

Storm surges on the coast, which happen when a hurricane’s winds push ocean water toward land, can even make rivers flow in reverse. If rivers are already overflowing, storm surges make the matter worse by stopping the water from flowing naturally away from the site of the flood.

The spread of urban development makes the possibility of flooding worse, Dobur said. When water hits concrete instead of soil, it runs off into rivers instead of being absorbed into the ground, further contributing to river flooding.

Orangeburg County has struggled with flooding in the past, according to the county’s director of emergency services, Billy Staley. He said the county is always planning for the hurricane season and jumps into action as soon as a hurricane is identified.

“Prior to us having a hurricane or large rainfall event, we make contact with our municipal agencies, along with our governmental public works divisions, for them to go out. They clear right of ways, and they clear drainages to try to increase the flow the best we can,” he said.

Staffing has been the county’s largest emergency response challenge, especially during power outages, according to Staley.

He attended Tuesday’s Hurricane Readiness for Inland Communities course and said the most important thing he learned was about the new types of forecasting offered by the National Weather Service.

“That’s a big deal for us. We’ve been pushing for years for them to increase their forecasting capabilities for us on the inland side of the storm, and we’re getting a lot of those products finally coming to fruition,” Staley said.

The rainfall forecasting and the wind forecasting will be the most important to Orangeburg County, he said.

Some of the forecasting offered by the National Hurricane Center, like the Saffir-Simpson Scale, can be misunderstood to devastating results, warned a number of different instructors. Other than the scale, the most commonly misinterpreted forecast is the forecast error cone, according to John Quagliariello.

He is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

The forecast error cone is the graphic that shows the potential path of the hurricane using a cone. Many people interpret the cone to be the area where the hurricane is likely to do damage, he said.

The cone actually shows the range of possible locations for the eye of the storm in the coming days. That means the storm’s core could be along the edge of the cone, spreading rain and strong winds for many miles out beyond the edge of the cone.

The cone is based on historical projections, which are updated each year. Still, the core of the storm is only inside  the cone around two-thirds of the time, further increasing the likelihood the storm will affect more than just the areas inside the cone.

Quagliariello stressed to the attending state, county and city emergency management officials that preparations should be made in areas far outside the cone.

Just as many counties are preparing for hurricanes year-round, the public should be making plans and checking the forecast during this hurricane season, Staley said.

“We want you to prepare before the storms ever get forecasted,” he said.

Once they are forecast, emergency management and the public can view a number of forecasts from the National Weather Service. As the storm approaches, the types of forecasts and the accuracy of those forecasts increase.

More than five days out, only an outlook is provided. These outlooks just look at what is happening in the tropics and if the meteorologists are concerned that a storm could be forming.

In three to five days out, five-day forecasts are provided as well as public advisories, wind speed percentage maps that show how likely hurricane-force winds are at certain areas and forecast discussions that explain the meteorologists’ findings.

Within two to three days out, tropical storm or hurricane watches are issued, excessive rainfall outlooks are created and flood watches are announced.

Within one to two days out, tropical storm or hurricane warnings and flood warnings are given. Local statements about the storm are sent out by local forecast offices and storm surge maps are also distributed.

All of this information can be found on the National Weather Service’s website: weather.gov

According to a May 25 media advisory by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which the National Weather Service is a part of, the 2023 hurricane season will be “near-normal.”

The Climate Prediction Center estimates that, from June 1 to Nov. 30, the Atlantic coast will see 12 to 17 named storms, with five to nine becoming hurricanes and one to four becoming major hurricanes.

 For this year’s hurricane season, the National Weather Service is bringing online new technology that boasts a 10%-15% improvement in predictions over other models.

The Hurricane Analysis and Forecast System will run alongside other models this year before taking over as the primary model in years to come.

Other technology to track rainfall and flooding is improving or in development.

The Excessive Rainfall Outlook will be released two days earlier, which gives local officials up to five days’ advance notice for flash flooding due to excessive rainfall.

A new mapping software is also in development to show current flooding down to the street level. The National Weather Service expects that portions of Texas and of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast will be ready in September, with the rest of the country being completed by 2026 at the latest.

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