Rebuilding After Harvey: Keeping An Eye Out For The Next Named Storm
It’s June, and that means Hurricane Season is officially upon us. Residents along the Texas coast are keeping an eye on the open waters, preparing for whatever named storms 2018 may bring.
Port Aransas Mayor Charles Bujan has his own system when watching for hurricanes. In his office is a map of the gulf. On it are dime sized magnets, plotted in a curved line pointing towards Alabama.
“This was my plot of the other storm. It was a little bit more this way,” he said.
He was plotting the track of Alberto; the first named storm of this season. Alberto came early, before June 1, which is the traditional start of hurricane season.
A storm or hurricane will get on Bujan’s map when it crosses certain lines of latitude and longitude.
“So when it gets that far, I start watching it — this line right here,” he said, pointing to a spot between Cuba and Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula.
It’s been nine month since Hurricane Harvey, and that’s given Bujan plenty of time for reflection.
If he could change one thing about how Port Aransas handled the storm, he said it would be not letting residents back into the island so soon.
“There were still power lines down, there were still gas leakages that we were still dealing with and we were still looking for people. You can’t have a population with your children in the midst of all that. It’s too dangerous,” he said.
Down the hall from his office, is the office of Rick Adams. The plastic sign next to his door says Development Services Director. Taped underneath, though, there’s a sheet of paper with “Emergency Manager” printed on it.
“I think it’s been handled in various ways but I became the dedicated emergency manager five years ago,” he said of his position. In this town of less than 4,000, one person can wear a few different hats.
Adams has his own Harvey takeaways. In the hours after the storm, he said the city’s satellite phones were useless.
“We lost all communications. So we were basically radio silent completely for a couple days,” he said. “We had some sat phones, some iridium handheld satellite phones that we didn’t realize in heavy cloud cover aren’t very effective.”
He holds one up —.it’s about the size of a large walkie-talkie. Now, the city knows better and they got an upgrade.
“We have since ... two case-based different types of satellite phones that are much more powerful that won’t be subject to inclement weather,” he said.
Adams pulls two large suitcases from under his desk and snaps them open. One contains a massive phone system; the other, a bunch of cables. He says it was donated by Nueces County Emergency Management. While he’s pulling out cables, a small rubber duckie falls out.
Asked if it was a good luck charm, he said it is. He said emergency planners along the coast all have a rubber ducks that they bring to meetings.
“There’s group of us that have been working in emergency management for a long time … and whenever we have presentations we all have our ducks,” he said. “And usually when all our of ducks in row is when things are working right. Everybody brings their duck to the table and we do our best to keep them in a row.”
Adam’s duck has small devil horns.
Port Aransas isn’t in this alone. During storms, governments in coastal cities all stay in constant contact with the National Weather Service. Meteorologists at its office in Corpus Chirsti are keeping a constant eye on the Gulf.
John Metz is the warning coordination meteorologist, the point person for local governmental entities. He said Harvey was unique.
Everybody brings their duck to the table and we do our best to keep them in a row.
“(Out of) the 63 hurricanes that have hit our state in 150 years only four have rapidly intensified like Harvey,” he said.
Metz said to detail the intensity, they had to use words like life-threatening, devastating, and catastrophic.
“In just my career — I’ve been here in South Texas 26 years — I’ve never had to use that type of message before, but we needed to get people’s attention that this was potentially deadly,” he said.
The NWS predicts there will be 10 to 16 named storms this year — Metz said five to nine of those could become hurricanes. While Port Aransas is ready, Metz said Port Aransas — and other Texas towns still recovering from Harvey — hope this year they’ll have a chance to catch their breath and continue rebuilding.
This is the installment in our three part series: "Rebuilding After Harvey."
Joey Palacios can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @joeycules