DEPARTMENTS


Weather or not

By Sally Benson


Some people wait for the first robin; some anticipate the first pitch. I wait for the season's hurricane forecast. Nothing says "spring" like word from the hurricane prediction team at Colorado State University's Department of Atmospheric Science.

Last year at this time, my little corner of the world had already experienced far too many recording-breaking, 80+ degree days and a spring that arrived up to five weeks early. This was followed, of course, by an evil little cold snap that nipped many of our blooming plants in the bud.

As one might expect of the wily weather gods, this year we've been served a dose of prolonged limbo - not really winter, not quite spring, not sure what to make of it. Last year we'd already cranked up the air conditioners and couldn't buy a drop of water. This April in the Chicago area it was cloudier and colder than normal, and by the third week we'd already set a record for rainfall. My favorite garden center was closed for days during what normally is peak opening because all roads surrounding it were closed. No matter how eager we are to jump-start spring and grab those new plants, driving your car through 3 feet of standing water isn't advisable.

It doesn't matter if it's hot or cold, rainy or dry as a sun-parched bone; weather's always on our minds. Most of us live far from the coasts and far from the immediate threat of hurricanes, but in a way, we're all affected. If your home and your business are in, say, South Dakota, you may not think that the devastating effects of something like Superstorm Sandy could reach you so far inland. Think again. Shipping and distribution, supply chains, basic transportation, emergency services, insurance premiums all can be delayed or diverted - or increased.

This year's forecast from the hurricane wizards at CSU's Department of Atmospheric Science calls for 18 named storms in the Atlantic Basin, with a total of 95 named storm days. Nine hurricanes are expected, amounting to 40 hurricane days. Of those, four are predicted to be major hurricanes. Yes, these are predictions, and predictions don't always pan out. But let's be glad we have people who can warn us of the potential.

The probability of at least one major hurricane making landfall has increased over the years, and this year is no exception. A "major" hurricane is considered Category 3, 4 or 5: Category 3 has sustained winds from 111 to 129 mph; Category 4 has sustained winds of 130 to 156 mph; and Category 5 has sustained winds of 157 mph or higher. Even at Category 3, says the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, "devastating damage will occur."

According to the forecast, there's a 72 percent chance that one major hurricane will hit anywhere along the entire U.S. coastline; the average for the last century is 52 percent. Probability of the East Coast (including Florida's Peninsula) being hit is 48 percent; the average for the last century is 31 percent. And the Gulf Coast from Florida's Panhandle to Brownsville, Texas? Forty seven percent; the average for the last century is 30 percent.

And remember: Superstorm Sandy wasn't "just" a hurricane. It was, essentially, a combination of three significant weather phenomena coming together to form the perfect storm.

Can we control the weather? No. But we can plan ahead for the inevitable disruption in at least some facet of our businesses. Whether you're situated in the path of the storm or have friends and colleagues who are, know that we all pull together to help.

My local garden center can expect my help as soon as I can get there to spend, spend, spend.