Riding the storm out
Truckers face special challenges in coping with hurricane season

By Jami Jones
feature editor


Every once in a while, Mother Nature flexes her muscles and reminds us of just how powerful she can actually be.

Last year was one of these times. Hurricanes Charley, Frances and Ivan tore repeated swathes of destruction through Florida. Homes were left in ruin. Families were left with nothing.

Americans – as always – found a way to rebuild, to reclaim their lives from nature’s power.

This year the hurricane season is predicted to produce even more powerful storms, similar to those that hit in 2004.

Hurricane forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are predicting another above-normal hurricane season on the heels of last year’s destructive and historic hurricane season.

“NOAA’s prediction for the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season is for 12 to 15 tropical storms, with seven to nine becoming hurricanes, of which three to five could become major hurricanes,” said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator, at a news conference earlier this year.

“Forecaster confidence that this will be an active hurricane season is very high.”

Homeowners in hurricane-prone areas have taken from last year’s storms and their aftermath a wealth of information, knowledge to better prepare themselves for the upcoming storm season. But that may not be enough.

“Impacts from hurricanes, tropical storms and their remnants do not stop at the coast,” said retired Brig. Gen. David L. Johnson, director of the NOAA National Weather Service. “As we … look at another highly active season, preparation plans should consider that these storms carry severe weather, such as tornadoes and flooding, while moving inland.”

But where does that leave truckers who need to pick up and deliver loads in not only those hurricane-prone areas but nearby inland areas, which are not exempt from the fallout from the hurricanes?

Truckers are no different than residents who live in high-risk areas – they must be prepared.

As simple as that may sound, truckers certainly face a unique set of challenges in making sure they can cope with the dangers of storms that are packing 100-plusmile- per-hour punches.

First and foremost, truckers should stay on top of the weather in the areas they could very well find themselves dropping off or picking up. Many radio and television broadcasters with weather updates stay on top of the situation through the National Weather Service and NOAA.

Activity, which could produce the severe storms that may turn into tropical storms and – eventually – hurricanes, is watched closely. So the information – the predictions – are there.

Although radio likes and dislikes – and more importantly, capabilities in the cab – may vary, most stations in hurricane-prone areas carry the NOAA alerts, and it would be advisable to tune into local radio stations to stay informed.

When staying up-to-date on the progress of hurricanes, the Red Cross stresses understanding the terminology. The following are some recommended terms and their definitions the Red Cross encourages everyone to understand:

  • HURRICANE WATCH: Hurricane conditions are possible in the specified area of the watch, usually within 36 hours;
  • HURRICANE WARNING: Hurricane conditions are expected in the specified area of the warning– usually within 24 hours;
  • HURRICANE CATEGORIES: These designations are based on wind speed:
    • CATEGORY 1: winds 74-95 mph; light building damage; coastal flooding; minor pier damage;
    • CATEGORY 2: winds 96-110 mph; damage to roofs, doors and windows; considerable damage to mobile homes; floods damage piers and small craft; some trees blow down;
    • CATEGORY 3: winds 111-130 mph; structural damage to small residences; large trees blow down; mobile homes destroyed; coastal flooding destroys smaller structures; flooding inland;
    • CATEGORY 4: winds 131-155 mph; complete roof failures; major beach erosion; inland flooding and tornadoes; and
    • CATEGORY 5: winds 156 mph and over; roofs destroyed on homes and industrial buildings; complete building failures; severe flooding.

Never knowing where you might be going from one day to the next makes having the right survival kit in place critical.

Truckers are good about having flashlights, batteries, first-aid kits etc. on board at all times. But being faced with the challenge of being stranded because of either the actual storms or the aftermath expands the list of necessities.

  • A three-day supply of water (one gallon per person per day) and ready-to-eat canned goods, such as tuna fish, peanut butter, crackers, canned fruit, juice boxes, etc. Remember to replace stored water and food every six months.
  • A battery-operated or hand-crank radio;
  • A flashlight and plenty of extra batteries;
  • A manual can opener;
  • Copies of important documents, including birth certificates, insurance policies and Social Security cards.
  • Your original documents should be secured in a locked box or safety deposit box;
  • Comfortable clothing and footwear;
  • One blanket or sleeping bag per person;
  • A first-aid kit, including prescription medicines;
  • Emergency tools, including tools to turn off utilities;
  • An extra set of car/truck keys;
  • Cash and credit cards;
  • An extra pair of glasses or contact lenses;
  • An up-to-date, detailed map of the state/area; and
  • Phone numbers of emergency assistance agencies.

THE 4-1-1
Perhaps one of the most daunting items on the list of items to have in the truck at all times is phone numbers. With so many states, especially when you start considering the inland areas that could experience flooding and other natural disasters, the list can get very long.

Using the resources you have when going into an area where the weather may turn sour is essential. Trucking companies and dispatchers can help route you around severe weather and provide you with contact numbers in the state that can help you find refuge if you are unable to get out of the area in time.

Trip planning will play a big role for the independent owner-operator. Having a fist full of phone numbers when severe weather hits could mean finding the best way to get out of the path of the storm, or being stuck in the middle of it.

Good numbers to have on hand include the state highway patrol, the state office of the Red Cross and even county law enforcement and fire protection services. LL