Thursday, August 24, 2006

Summer Travel = Stormy Weather?

Labor Day marks the traditional end of summer, and many Americans are planning one last escape to the beach before schools start up again. But if you’re traveling to the Outer Banks, the Jersey Shore the Sea Islands or anywhere else along the Atlantic Coast sometime soon, be aware that you may encounter one of Mother Nature’s most powerful phenomena, the hurricane. All across the southeastern US, hurricane season begins in June and lasts through November, and the threat of a storm can put a sudden end to the summer fun. The current tropical storm, Debby, looks likely to grow to hurricane force while staying away from landfall, but travelers and residents of coastal areas should definitely pay attention to storm warnings. Radio and TV stations broadcast these updates whenever stormy weather threatens, and if you hear one heed it and head inland to higher ground.

Hurricanes are tropical storms which form over the Atlantic Ocean as far away as Africa, covering upwards of 400 square miles. Hurricane winds reach speeds of 75 to 150 mph or more, and even more dangerous than the high winds of a hurricane is the storm surge--a dome of ocean water that can be 20 feet high at its peak, and 50 to 100 miles wide. Ninety percent of hurricane fatalities are attributable to the high waves of a storm surge, which can wash away entire beaches and intensify flooding in low-lying areas (like New Orleans, or New York City) many miles from the ocean. The strongest hurricane recorded in the United States was the Labor Day storm of 1935, which killed 500 people and destroyed the Florida Keys Railroad. More recent East Coast hurricanes include Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which killed 54 people and caused more than $25 billion worth of damage across southern Florida, and the multiple ‘canes that pounded Florida in 2004. Last year saw the most stroms in history, including the Hurricane Katrina disaster at the end of August, which killed some 1,800 people and caused over $120 billion in damage. Katrina pointed the storm-watching spotlight back along the Gulf coast, which was the location of the deadliest US hurricane ever: in 1900, back before stroms were given proper names, a hurricane hit Galveston Island, Texas, killing more than 6,000 people--the worst natural disaster in American history.


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