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Ask Capt. Gary

August 1, 2016

Right around this time of year, folks who are aware of my prediliction for tracking hurricanes, always start asking what this season is gonna’ be like. Hell, I don’t know! I track them as they occur, I can’t predict them. But there are folks who do predict them, and August is as good a times as any to think/talk about the 2016 hurricane season

 

So, turning to brains and organizations far better equipped at prediction than I, there are a total of 12 named storms, five hurricanes and two major hurricanes expected this season, according to the Colorado State University forecast (as I write this in late June, we’ve had four named storms so far, none — save for that weird Hurricane Alex in January — reaching hurricane strength).

 

Of course averages and forecasts don’t mean a lot when it comes to hurricanes; 1992 was a below average season and produced Hurricane Andrew, which virtually destroyed southern Florida, and that entire season only had six named storms and one subtropical storm. Last year we had 11 named storms and only three (according to my records) made it to hurricane strength on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

In mid-May, the NOAA/NWS (hurricanes.gov) forecast was for a near normal season, but with a 30-percent chance this season will be above normal and a 25 percent chance it’ll be below.

Flooding on the lower Peconic River.

 

 

Agencies tracking hurricanes all have a caveat this season as well; the West Coast’s El Nino/La Nina has an affect on the Carribean Basin hurricanes. As an inveterate hurricane watcher, however, the ones coming off the African Sahara are the ones that scare me.

 

A Little Hurricane History

The hurricane rating scale is preoperly known as the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. It was developed by structural engineer Herb Saffir, who had been doing a study on low-cost housing in hurricane areas for the United Nations, and meteorologist Bob Simpson, then director of the then-named US National Hurricane Center in 1971. It was introduced to the public in 1973. Saffir provided the wind data, Simpson added the effetcs of storm surge and flooding. In 2010, the storm surge flooding aspect was removed from the calculation (which is now handled by SLOSH, what the National Weather Service calls ‘Sea, Lake, and Overland Surge from Hurricanes.’ Oh, those whacky meteorologist!), and the new system became operational in 2012. History lesson over.

 

And for those of you interested in names, we’ve got Earl, Fiona, Gaston, Hermine, Ian, Julia, Karl, Lisa, Matthew. Nicole, Otto, Paula, Richard, Shary, Tobias, Virginie and Walter still to go in 2016 (as of June 29).

Well, it is tied to a tree!

 

 

You and Your Boat

You got a boat, a hurricane’s coming. Now what?

Okay, tip numbers one through 10. If a hurricane is imminent, get your boat out of the water and to someplace where flying debris and falling trees are of minimal concern!

Failing that — or not being able to do that for whatever the reason — there are some things you can do to better the odds of boat survival.

 

For starters have a plan of action ready. If you know or have access to a hurricane hole (an area pretty much protected from all sides— there aren’t a lot of them in this neck of the woods, though), get to it before it gets crowded. Waiting till the last minute is a no-no.

 

Even if you’re able to trailer your craft inland, have a plan ready to do so, and do it early. Don’t leave your boat on trailer or stands and figure that’s enough. Secure it to the ground with those screw-in anchors — good ones, not the kind your dog can pull out of the lawn.

 

If you’re in the water and in a hurricane hole get the anchors out fore and aft and remember that you’ll have a 180-degree wind shift after an eye passes over.

 

You can’t have enough scope out, but go for 10:1. Don’t forget: there’s going to be a storm surge accompanying the ’cane. Think about the swing room you’re going to need with a 10:1 scope out. Make sure you have chaffing gear on all lines, the motion to come will saw through plain lines fast; use garden hose if you have nothing else, but wrap the line wherever it contacts your boat with something that’ll stay in place.

 

If you’re moored out and tied/chained to a zillion pound mushroom anchor, don’t bet the farm on it holding your boat. Helix anchors are the way to go. Here’s a note from Boat US about them.

“A study by the BoatU.S. Foundation, Cruising World magazine, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found that a 500 [pound] buried mushroom could be pulled out with 1,200 pounds of pull (supplied by a 900 hp tug); an 8,000 pound dead weight (concrete) anchor could be pulled out with 4,000 pounds of pull. The helix, however, could not be pulled out by the tug and the strain gauge recorded 12,000 pounds of pull — its maximum — before a shackle was burst apart by the strain. Scope in each case was slightly less than 3:1. (In an earlier test, a strain gauge had registered 20,800 pounds before the hawser snapped.)”

Someone’s storm is someone’s party. Shinnecock 2012

 

 

Think about that. Note also, that in shallow harbors where you don’t have the room for proper scope, a 3:1 ratio will have your boat hop-skipping its mushroom all the way to shore (I’ve seen it and salvaged the anchors and the boats. And I’ve used helix anchors as pivot points for pulling boats off beaches. Oh. And speaking of salvage. Make sure your boat insurance is paid in full!)

 

If you’re docked at a marina, you should have discussed hurricane policies when you first signed on the dotted line. Find out now who’s responsible for doing what insofar as hurricane prep. Having your boat tied up securely (think spider web and enough fenders to look like a Moran tug boat) won’t do any good if the boat next to you has polypro dock lines fore and aft and that’s it. Loose lips may sink ships, as they said in WWII, but someone’s loose boat’ll sink your boat as just as fast as torpedoes sank Liberty ships on the Murmansk run.

 

Also remember, that the given power of a hurricane, expressed in wind speed, has to be increased by the speed of the storm’s movement; i.e., a storm punching 110 mph (a Cat 2 on Saffir-Simpson) moving at 20 mph is essentially a Cat 3 (1989’s Hurricane Hugo reached around 60 to 70 mph of forward speed with a max sustained wind of 160! Do the math). The “sustained wind” you hear about is a measure of wind speed taken for one minute at approximately 33 feet of height.

 

The worst winds will be on the right side of the hurricane’s travel direction. If the storm is moving north, that means the east side, if it’s moving west, it’s the north side, etc. The best quadrant to be in — if you’re at sea, where you shouldn’t be with today’s electronics and forecasting capabilities — is the side away from the right side because the same forward motion that is added to the hurricane’s sustained wind speed is subtracted on that side. In the aforementioned example, the wind speed on the side away from travel direction would make it a 90 mph hurricane or a Cat 1.

 

Of course riding out a hurricane at 90 mph, rather than 140 is something I will gladly live without ever having done.

 

Bottom line? Get your boat out of the water. If you can’t, make sure it’s tied down and anchored as best you can. Make sure the insurance is current, pray for a low tide, hope the weather forecast is wrong and … keep your fingers crossed.

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