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The big storms

What is a hurricane?
A hurricane is a revolving storm. In the northern hemisphere, its direction of rotation is counter-clockwise. As the wind rotates, it spirals in toward the center, the area of lowest pressure. The lower the pressure in the center, the more intense the hurricane.

The direction and velocity of the wind depends on your location in relation to the storm. In general, the strongest winds and heaviest rain are experienced in the “wall cloud,” the ring usually 5 to 30 miles from center (inside the ring is the “eye”). The winds decrease in strength the further you are from the wall cloud (eye).

The hurricane season in the Caribbean is from 1 June through 30 November. The historic peak times for the Dominican Republic are 25 August to 30 September. For more information on hurricanes in the DR and valuable weather links to follow the development of these see http://dr1.com/weather/hurricanes.shtml/

Should we expect a hurricane this season?
You should always expect a hurricane. By this we do not mean you should live in fear, but do make plans. Be prepared. A bad hurricane can hit any year. Stay tuned and always prepare for the worst. 

What different storms that can affect this region?
Sunny days with bursts of scattered short showers is the norm for the Caribbean. Every once in a while, a tropical wave will run through. These are clusters of clouds and heavy rain, that on occasions come with thunder and lightning, but are without a significant circulation. These generally move from east to west through the tropics and bring that unusual three or four days of seemingly unstop rain.

Then there are three degrees of tropical cyclones. The first is a tropical depression with winds ranging between 35 to 62 kms (up to 39mph) per hour . They occur almost every year and they bring grey skies with plenty of rainfall. They are moderate to strong in gale force, enough to put the trees in motion and may even impede your progress. 

The second is the tropical storm. These are christened with a name as they blow with winds of 63 to 118 kph (39-73 mph). Do not let the innocuous, even romantic sound of “tropical storm” fool you. If you have been in one of these, you will be impressed by the devastation and terror it can cause. This is graded as a whole gale in which trees are uprooted and considerable structural damage occurs. 

The last level is, of course, the hurricane, pounding you with winds of 120 kph (74 mph) and more. It is interesting to note that the word hurricane comes from a Taino word huracán, meaning “when devastation occurs.”

Hurricanes that can affect the DR usually begin as a cluster of thunderstorms over western Africa and then moved out over the Atlantic as a rainy low-pressure wave. These strong disturbances can take several days to develop into a tropical storm and another full week before they develop the clear eye (and central circulation) of a strong hurricane. 

How will we be informed if a hurricane is on the way? 
The news media passes the information on to the general public. Radio, television, and newspapers are immediately informed and issue the appropriate warnings on a three or six hourly basis. Advertencia—(Hurricane Watch). This lets you know there is some activity that is being watched. Alerta—(Alert). The activity is increasing in scale and being tracked (with trepidation). Aviso—This is your notification that one is definitely on the way. They will now be able to name the specific target area and the estimated time of arrival. If there is to be an evacuation of your area, it is now that you will be advised where to go.

Those who have cable TV may be able to tune into the Weather Channel, available to cable TV subscribers when a hurricane becomes a possibility.

The best source of information is the Internet, as reports can be issued long before a strike is a firm possibility. Those connecting to the Internet will be able to access the most up-date information on the hurricane and the possibilities of it hitting or avoiding the Dominican Republic long before it is a distinct hit possibility. Internet sources provide more accurate and detailed reports than the local press as these are continuously updated.

The DR1 Daily News and the DR1 Weather & Beyond Forum keep close track of hurricanes that can affect the Dominican Republic. During the a tropical depression falls on a track that could hit the island, updates will be posted constantly on the service as well as links to several web sites that post considerable information on the development.

When was the last time that a hurricane hit the Dominican Republic?
Hurricane Jeanne, a category one storm, hit in 2004, affecting the east, northeastern and northern coasts. George, a category three storm, hit in 1998, with winds blasting over 200 kms per hour hit the Dominican Republic. Most damages were caused by flooding after the hurricane. The experience is recent enough so that Dominicans take hurricanes seriously. Prior to that, Hurricane David, a category four storm, caused more damage in 1979. 

What precautions should I take before a hurricane hits?
Keep cash at hand as bank ATMs may not be working if there is a bad hit. Given that many Dominican homes and businesses already are hooked up to some alternative source of power, the Dominican Republic in many ways is better suited to handle hurricanes than other areas that depend on normal power sources. Some of the fundamental rules to observe: (1) To make your home “disaster ready," install the storm shutters sold locally by different suppliers. Or have pre-cut 1/2 inch plywood and nails available to board up the windows. (2) Keep your trees and shrubs well pruned throughout the hurricane season and if any of the overhanging branches come into contact with the electrical lines let the CDE know and they will have them cut. (3) Have a disaster kit ready with enough tinned food and water to last you one or two days, together with a first aid kit. (4) It is also important to keep a two-week supply of any prescription drug that you may be taking. (5) Plan a flood safe evacuation route (take note during rainstorms of which roads commonly flood in your area). 

Can I stay in my house during a hurricane? 
You need to make plans before the hurricane arrives. Since Dominicans lived through Hurricane Georges in 1998, the memory of what can withstand a hurricane and what not is still there. If this will be your first time through a hurricane in your present dwelling, ask the neighbors for advice given their recent experience. If your house is a solid, well constructed structure, is not in the evacuation zone, your whole family is in good health, and you have the time to make your house ready—then yes, you should be able to weather the storm. You may decide to evacuate to relatives or friends with such a house—make sure you have arranged it all with them beforehand. 
If they live outside the target area you may want to travel there but do so in plenty of time. When the Civil Defense announces that your area is an evacuation area, it will tell you where the shelters are located and you should go immediately. Remember you cannot take animals, alcohol, or firearms into a shelter.

What are the things I should do when I know a hurricane is on the way? 
Fill up the gasoline tanks of all your cars. Your food and water requirements need to be safeguarded and your house made ready. Turn the thermostat on your fridge and freezer to the lowest setting and try not to open them unless absolutely necessary —your food can keep up to two days without electricity if you are careful. Fill baths and clean bottles or jars with water, boil for five minutes before drinking. Alternatively you can add bleach (eight drops/gallon) or a water purifier such as Purissima. It is likely your water supply will be interrupted. Make sure your propane gas tank supplies are adequate. Regardless, if you rely on electricity for cooking, you should have some alternative method of cooking, as the electricity may be cut for longer than the usual blackout times. 

Secure any objects around the outside of the house that can be picked up by the wind and hurled as missiles through your windows, e.g., garden furniture, garbage cans, etc. Nailing the boards over windows securely and putting tape on any windows of a room where you will be taking cover helps contain the pieces of glass. 

Do not empty your swimming pool of water since that will only increase the likelihood of it cracking. Cut off the pump and give it an extra dose of chlorine to avoid contamination—you may need this water later. 

Insect repellent or citronella candles are an extra that will make you more comfortable. Keep a supply on hand. 
One important thing to avoid is hermetically sealing your house. You must keep a door or window open on the opposite side of the force of the wind to avoid a build up of pressure that will suck your roof off.

Where is the safest place to hide? 
Stay in any interior space such as a bathroom or closet without windows. Keep your radio tuned to the news and do not venture out of your haven until the “all clear” has been given by the Civil Defense. If the eye crosses over your area, do not go out unless you have to make emergency repairs. It is only a brief respite—the wind and the rain return from the opposite direction with greater intensity. If water is coming into the house, turn the electricity off at the mains and use your flashlight. If you use gas, try not to light candles or lighters to prevent the risk of causing a fire. Do not use the telephone except for emergencies. Most telephone lines run underground, so telephone service is unlikely to be interrupted in case of a hurricane. But this is not the time to call all your friends. 

What is the first thing I should do after the hurricane? 
More people are killed by injuries after the hurricane from electrical shock and lacerations, so do not touch any fallen wires. Check yourself for injuries first and then proceed to call out and locate the other people. Remember, most hurricanes strike at night, so ascertain if anyone is injured. You need to get to those people first. You should have your flashlight to assist movement.

How safe are the buildings here? 
Miguel Martínez, a structural engineer, assures us that the typical residence in the Dominican Republic is 90% cyclone-proof as they are built of concrete. Even the roofing is concrete with a tile overlay. The houses built by the government are also made of concrete. The windows and doors are the weakest spots and will need reinforcing for the storm. Only buildings with more than four floors are subject to a building code that requires the builder to take the effect of high winds into account in the original design. 

What should I have in a disaster kit?
A first aid kit, matches, a radio with an extra supply of batteries, car keys, a flashlight, tinned food and opener, bottled water, chlorine to sterilize, some cash, important phone numbers, protective and extra clothing.

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