Tropical Doom, real and imagined

Out of the fetid, miasmic waters of the Gulf of Mexico something stirs … or not.  Besides, after the last couple of months it’s hard to get too worried about hurricanes.  At least you can see them coming, unlike a virus particle on the doorknob left by someone who was irresponsibly distributing political leaflets, hanging them (and probably touching) EVERY SINGLE DOORKNOB IN OUR NEIGHBORHOOD (in Savannah, GA).  Sending someone out to do that in these times should disqualify a politician (Michael J. Hamilton, Sr.) from running for office … but I digress.

Typhoon Vongfong took a turn for the worst yesterday, and has made landfall in the Philippines.  It is likely causing the equivalent of $1 Billion in damage, and the evacuations and sheltering are probably exacerbating the spread and control of COVID-19 in that country. The problem is that the things you need to do for a hurricane, move populations around in evacuations, put people together in shelters) are EXACTLY the opposite of what you need to do for a pandemic! Here’s the latest impact map …

There is a system presently over South Florida that the US National Hurricane Center is excited about.  They give it a 40% chance of spinning up in the next 48 hours, and a 70% chance within 5 days.  Very little tracking data on it available this morning, the normal track models haven’t spun up yet, but if you just need a line on a map here’s something … this track starts at 7pm tomorrow (Friday 15 May) and runs until Sunday night.  After that the storm continues north, off the coast of North Carolina.  Not likely to be much of a threat to anybody, but may get some news coverage.  The Bahamas are still suffering after Dorian, but I doubt this will be a significant event unless something radically changes before Saturday.

Hopefully decision makers and emergency managers are thinking about how to modify evacuation plans and sheltering protocols.  My strong advice is to revert to the old (and IMNSHO best) guidance: evacuate from water, shelter from wind.  So you only evacuate flood prone areas.  Most people will be ok in hurricane force winds in reasonably well built homes up to about Cat 3 (when buildings start to collapse).  Mobile Homes, of course, need to get out, but setting up local shelters (which many coastal counties are reluctant to do) are essential to avoid spreading the virus to outsiders (or bringing it back in when evacuees return).  So evacuation guidance must be more nuanced than the traditional “evacuate the entire coastal region” or evacuations and sheltering are going to create a massive vector for spreading the SARS-COV-2 virus, just in time for the fall respiratory disease season.

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