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Hurricane Breakfast - Piotrowski recalls night at ‘Little Blue Shed’

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Posted: Sunday, June 9, 2019 10:43 pm

It’s that time of year – hurricane season.

The Rockport-Fulton Chamber of Commerce annual Hurricane Preparedness Breakfast was held Wednesday, June 5, at the Rockport Service Center, and featured legendary storm chaser Jeff Piotrowski, National Weather Service Warning Coordination Meteorologist John Metz, and Aransas County Emergency Management Coordinator Rick McLester.

Piotrowski’s coverage of Harvey, while taking cover at the “Little Blue Shed” at Island Car Wash (Business Highway 35), was seen by hundreds of thousands of people, and turned the Little Blue Shed into a symbol of hope and strength.

His enthusiasm and drive have garnered a record breaking following on Twitter Periscope @Jeff_Piotrowski with more than 19.7 million likes and 90,000 followers.

Island Car Wash owners Bernice and Russell Jackson gave Piotrowski a scale model of the Little Blue Shed after his presentation.

Rick McLester

McLester opened his comments noting Aransas County, 21 months after Harvey, still has people “living the nightmare,” and added the county still has a long way to go until full recovery is reached.

He urged residents to listen when the county judge and two mayors call a mandatory evacuation.

“Please understand what all goes into making that call,” said McLester. “The decision to shut down the county is not taken lightly.

“If you stay, you’re part of the problem, not part of the solution.”

McLester said everyone who can’t self-evacuate should sign up for 211.

“It’s there so we have a list of people who can’t evacuate on their own,” he said.

The 211 system can also be accessed to get information about Aransas County after a storm.

CodeRED is another service that is vitally important, and every Aransas County resident should register.

It is a mass call system that alerts residents of emergency situations, or information that is otherwise valuable and time sensitive.

McLester gave an example of the importance of the CodeRED system.

He said several years ago there was an armed man roaming around Key Allegro. A Code Red alert was sent to Key Allegro residents to give them a heads up about what was going on.

“Only 90 people of the 450-plus homes on Key Allegro received the call (because the other 300-plus weren’t signed up),” said McLester.

One can sign up for CodeRED alerts at the Aransas County, City of Rockport, or Town of Fulton websites.

He praised the first responders, including the EMS, law enforcement, and volunteer fire departments.

“After Harvey, I added AEP, the county’s road and bridge crews, and the city’s public works department to the list of first responders,” said McLester.

John Metz

Metz was dead on with his predictions about Hurricane Harvey’s landfall, and projected devastation that followed. He also gave first responders critical real time information about how long they would have, during the eye of the storm, to rescue stranded individuals.

(Editor’s note: Metz, along with McLester, will be the featured speakers at the Fulton Neighborhood Watch’s hurricane program Tuesday, June 11. It will be held at 6:30 p.m. at Fulton Community Church.)

Metz said the 2018 hurricane season was an active one, with 15 named storms, including eight hurricanes. Fortunately, the western Gulf of Mexico was not active last year.

However, many lessons were learned after Hurricane Michael, a powerful Category 5 storm, and Hurricane Florence, a small Category 1 hurricane, hit the U.S.

Michael caused massive devastation, completely wiping out Mexico Beach in Florida.

“PTSD is a real issue after these major storms,” said Metz.

In Florence, torrential rains and a moderate storm surge caused widespread flooding far inland in the Carolinas.

“You can’t base your actions only on the category of a storm,” he said.

He noted an interesting statistic that shows a drop in deaths from storm surge, but an increase in deaths after a storm has passed. Those deaths are attributed to fires, carbon monoxide poisoning, and accidents.

He said Michael developed quickly, like Harvey, but had an extra day in the Gulf.

“An extra day is like an eternity for a hurricane,” said Metz.

Michael’s winds were about 30 mph higher than Harvey’s, but that storm passed quickly over the Florida panhandle, whereas Harvey’s hurricane force lasted 13 hours in Rockport-Fulton.

“Since Michael was moving so fast, hurricane force winds were pushed far inland,” said Metz.

He noted 50 people rode out Michael in Mexico Beach, and many of them did not survive the 14-foot storm surge.

“The aftermath of that storm surge was catastrophic,” said Metz.

It is estimated the equivalent of 2.5 million logging trucks are needed to remove the fallen trees in the area that was at one time heavily forested.

Metz stressed the importance of understanding every hurricane is different.

“The next storm will be completely different than Harvey,” he said.

After Michael, those who didn’t evacuate were asked why they stayed.

“They said their decision was made due to perceptions of previous storms,” said Metz. “Everyone surveyed said they will evacuate next time.”

He noted hurricane season runs from June through November, but the major storms along the Texas coast tend to occur in August and September.

Harvey was one of only four rapid intensification storms to hit the Texas coast.

The four killers in a hurricane are storm surge, wind, rain, and tornadoes.

The Saffir-Simpson wind scale only identifies wind speeds. It does not indicate the size of a storm surge, or the tornado activity in a hurricane.

“When wind and storm surge are combined, it’s catastrophic,” said Metz.

He noted many residents in Corpus Christi “think” they experienced a Category 4 storm in Harvey, but in reality they experienced a very minor hurricane, in terms of winds.

He urged everyone to meet with their insurance carrier to insure they are adequately covered.

“If you don’t have flood insurance, and you have flood damage, you have no insurance,” said Metz.

For information about hurricane activity in the Gulf of Mexico, he encourages everyone to monitor www.hurricanes.gov. He said his office is open 24/7 and can be reached at (361) 289-0959.

A hurricane watch is issued when tropical storm winds are expected within 48 hours. A hurricane warning is issued when tropical storm winds are expected within 36 hours.

Metz said a warning, which was used for the first time in Hurricane Harvey, is the Extreme Wind Warning.

“It is the last message that goes out,” said Metz.

He said now is the time to get prepared. That preparedness includes getting materials for boarding up windows, enforcing one’s garage door, trimming trees and repairing fences, checking insurance coverage, and obtaining supplies (hurricane kit).

“Prepare like you’re going to be gone for a week,” said Metz.

He also said tire repair kits and family phone numbers written down (not stored on mobile device) are also important.

Metz also stressed the importance of setting up in advance a place where one will evacuate, and taking care of pets.

“We are having this meeting today because we live in hurricane country,” he said. “We’ve had 64 storms, and one-third of them have been major (Category 3 or greater).

“We don’t know when the next one will hit (but there will be a next time).”

Jeff Piotrowski

Piotrowski has “chased” more than 900 tornadoes and two dozen hurricanes. He has won Emmy Awards, and is featured on television programs, including those on the National Geographic and History channels.

“I lived and experienced Harvey with you, and it was not fun,” said Piotrowski.

He said, “(When I arrived for today’s program) I was absolutely astonished how far y’all have come (since the storm).”

He noted he and his wife, Kat, who joins him chasing tornadoes and other weather events, but not hurricanes, are very busy planning now that hurricane season is here.

Piotrowski said they monitor weather models continuously, and make travel plans up to 10 days in advance of a disturbing weather system.

“I flew into Corpus Christi on the last flight, the night before Harvey,” he said. “I had never been here, so I had to scope out the area and figure out (where I would ride out the storm).”

Piotrowski described how the winds intensified during the afternoon of Friday, Aug. 25, finally reaching hurricane force at about 4:30 p.m.

He showed video of arcing power lines in front of the Stripes convenience store at the entrance to Key Allegro. The time was 5:30 p.m.

He found himself at the car wash as winds intensified, and videoed CVS Pharmacy (former Jerry’s Pharmacy) literally explode and hit the Little Blue Shed.

“The wind rapidly intensified, 90 mph, 100 mph, 110 mph as the eye wall approached,” said Piotrowski. “Hurricanes at night are 10 times scarier than daytime storms.”

He said he probably wouldn’t have taken refuge at the car wash if he had to do it again, but noted, “The Blue Shed took on a life of its own,” once the public started seeing his videos.

Piotrowski said as the eye wall approached, he was “pretty much stressed out the last minute or so.”

He leaned up against the car wash wall and could feel it moving back and forth, like it was breathing.

He said what he observed inside the eye was a new experience for him.

“It was like sitting at the bottom of a barrel, looking up, and seeing a lightning storm around the eye wall. It was incredible,” said Piotrowski.

As the back of the eye wall approached he heard a horrendous noise.

“It sounded like thousands of wine glasses shattering at the same time, said Piotrowski.

During the eye he moved from the car wash to the loading dock on the north side of Walmart.

“I stayed there the rest of the night. The back of the storm was worse. I watched the sky lights blow off the building,” he said.

After sharing more footage he took during Harvey, Piotrowski presented his “Top 10 List.” of things to remember before a storm hits. His list includes:

• Get multiple SIM cards from different carriers for smart phones

• Fill up all cars with gas

• Take pictures/videos inside and outside you home and business and secure all insurance policies

• Get cash before the power goes out

• Buy a can of spray paint to write a message (on driveway or house) so first responders know your whereabouts. One can also paint his or her address on property since signage could be gone after a storm

• Buy fix a flat and tire plug kits

• Secure a weather radio

• Prepare your hurricane kit (food, water, etc.)

• Turn down freezer and air conditioner as low as possible

• Monitor the National Weather Service website and evacuate as soon as you can.

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