Misconceptions about damage caused by tropical systems

Special Reports

(WIAT) — We’ve seen our fair share of damage from tropical systems here in Central Alabama. But, local researchers have found that a lot of people are confused about what part of a hurricane actually poses the greatest threats for the area. 

Jason Senkbeil, an associate professor at the University of Alabama, did extensive research on Hurricane Irma and what caused evacuees to flee Florida. Senkbeil and a team went to Alabama rest areas to interview evacuees. Irma’s slow track towards the United States fueled fear. 

Senkbeil said, “Many people in the state of Florida thought the entire state was going to receive Category 4, Category 5 winds due to the large size of Irma.” He found that many evacuees had misconceptions about the potential damage. 

“Everybody was just so scared of the wind. They thought they were going to get 145 mph winds in the middle of the state. What we found in Irma is that sometimes you don’t have to drive 24 hours to get to safety. You just have to drive out of the storm surge zone and out of the higher wind zone,” he said.

This is because of strict Florida building code. Even though Central Alabama is far enough away from the coast, a quick-moving storm could still cause wind damage. But often, our greatest threat is flooding. 

Senkbeil said, ”Slow-moving storms, those are your inland flooding threats. If you’ve got a storm that is crawling along and you can pile up a foot to possibly three feet of rain, that’s probably going to cause more damage than the wind.”

Another misconception about local impacts, deals with the tornado threat associated with tropical systems. Senkbeil says this shouldn’t cause a lot of anxiety because often the tornadoes from feeder bands are weak and are not on the ground of long. So, as long as you are not in a mobile home and in your safe place, you will likely keep yourself safe. 

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