Sweetwater Police Chief Brian Frieda invited a special guest at the Sweetwater Rotary Club meeting on Monday. Dr. Steve Lyons gave a presentation on hurricanes and how they impact our area and other inland areas.
Despite Sweetwater and the surrounding areas being so far from the Gulf of Mexico, the area is still susceptible to hurricane storm remnants. The 2013 hurricane season is expected to be very active, but the odds of the area receiving storm remnants from a named Atlantic storm are very small. For example, the 2005 storm season was a record with 27 named Atlantic storms, yet our area received no storm remnants. "The possibility is still there, though, however small," cautioned Dr. Lyons.
Dr. Lyons explained the five "toes" of a hurricane's footprint. Wind, waves, water rise, rainfall flooding and tornados all affect areas that are hit by hurricanes. Hurricane winds are measured with the Saffir Simpson Scale. Category 1 hurricane winds measure between 74-95 mph, category 2 between 96-110 mph, category 3 between 111-129 mph, category 4 between 130-156 mph, and category 5 with winds in excess of 156 mph. Dr. Lyons said that inland areas are usually affected by storm remnants from hurricanes with high winds.
Being so far inland, waves and water rise don't affect the Sweetwater area. But rainfall flooding from storm remnants pose the biggest threat. The state of Texas receives more rainfall from tropical cyclones and hurricane remnants than any other state. In 1978, hurricane Amelia died at the Texas coast, but 48 inches of rain was dropped on Medina, Texas.
And while tornados normally pose a significant threat if they form over land, tornados from hurricane events are mostly weak, peripheral events that tend to form over water and are referred to as water spouts.
This week also marks Lightning Safety Awareness Week. Dr. Lyons and Hector Guerrero are traveling across Sweetwater, Abilene and San Angelo giving presentations and safety training to various audiences.
In his talk on lightning safety at the Rotary Club meeting, Dr. Lyons told of the three types of lightning — in cloud, cloud to cloud and cloud to ground — and explained that only cloud to ground lightning is dangerous.
A common myth that Dr. Lyons dispelled — lightning can't strike the same spot twice. "Untrue. The higher the object, the more likely it is to be struck by lightning, so if you're caught outside in a storm, stay away from high objects. Don't hide under a tree," he said. "If you do find yourself stuck outside with no shelter, find the lowest area possible and curl your body up. There's less surface area that way."
Dr. Lyons also explained that most people survive being struck by lightning because they are not hit by the main strike, but by peripheral bands. "The main bolt of lightning can be approximately 54,000 degrees - five times hotter than the surface of the sun. If you were to be hit by the main bolt, there's no chance of survival," said Dr. Lyons.
So what should you do in the event of a severe storm remnant or lightning storm? "Pay attention to the weather and have access to it at all times from multiple sources," advised Dr. Lyons. "There are lots of weather apps for cell phones these days. It's a great way to keep informed on the weather."
Dr. Lyons also advised to have a plan that includes being self-sufficient for a week. And for lightning storms? "Go inside. Don't be electrified!"