Written by Maggie Wickey, South Carolina Federal Credit Union, CYP Steering Committee Vice Chair
If you’ve lived in the Lowcountry for any length of time, you’re no stranger to hurricane season. Watching the spaghetti models ebb and flow, trying to find sandbags and the nearly annual conundrum of deciding whether to evacuate or stay put when a serious storm is headed our way.
Rob Fowler is no stranger to hurricane season, either. He’s been Storm Team 2‘s Chief Meteorologist since 1987 and an avid weather enthusiast since he was a young boy. On October 7, Fowler led a virtual chat with CYP about how he got started in the business, what to make of this year’s hurricane season and how Lowcountry residents can make sure they’re prepared for the next storm.
But first, he kicked off our event with an update on Hurricane Delta. Typical.
Approaching the 2020 Hurricane Season
“Our biggest fear going into hurricane season this year was COVID-19,” Fowler explained. He noted that shelters wouldn’t be able to take in as many people due to social distancing guidelines, which added more anxiety and stress to an already difficult situation.
Another fear local meteorologists had, one that isn’t exclusive to 2020, is complacency. Fowler mentioned that many folks who were here for Hurricane Hugo don’t pay much attention to any storm that isn’t expected to rival Hugo.
There’s no doubt Hurricane Hugo was a monster storm that caused widespread damage – $6 billion, to be exact – but only small parts of our region experienced it at its full Category 4 force. Many areas of Charleston only saw Category 2 conditions. Fowler cautioned against underestimating future hurricanes just because you experienced Hurricane Hugo.
Fowler also touched on how the growth of social media has impacted hurricane season. “There’s a lot of misinformation that we have to weed through and mitigate.” For example, he referenced a photoshopped image of a shark in the middle of a flooded highway that makes its way around social media each year. Twitter and Facebook users will repost the doctored image and attribute it to whatever storm is making headlines at the time. “Can you believe this is Houston?” “Is this really Florida?”
Fowler cautioned against relying on social media for all of your hurricane updates and to follow trusted sources so you can make sure you’re getting accurate, timely information. He mentioned the National Hurricane Center and Tropicaltidbits.com as two great resources, in addition to the team at Count on 2.
Preparing for a Storm
If you live in the Charleston area, it’s a question of when – not if – we’ll have another big storm. The key is to be prepared and make sure you’re ready before a storm makes landfall. Fowler shared some helpful tips:
- Make sure you have a plan that everyone in your family knows and understands. You should have ways to contact each other if you’re separated, even if cell phone reception goes down.
- A well-stocked hurricane kit is essential. You can find a full list of suggested items at counton2.com, but Fowler specifically mentioned the importance of having batteries, sufficient water, a whistle and a non-electric can opener in your kit.
- When a storm is headed in your general direction, keep a continuous eye on the news, and listen to the advice of your elected officials.
One attendee asked Fowler if he had a general guideline for when folks should evacuate. He stressed that the decision to evacuate is personal and that every family should do what’s best for them. However, he continued to stress that you should follow the directions of your elected officials.
Fowler went on to explain that a Category 5 hurricane will be catastrophic, and if you live where one is expected to make landfall, you should definitely evacuate. Category 4 hurricanes should also prompt serious thought to evacuating, as they can be deadly and cause widespread damage.
He pointed out that, in Charleston, “It floods on a sunny day. We have issues here that other areas may not have.”
Tracking and Forecasting
Another attendee admitted that meteorologists get a lot of flak for their forecasts being inaccurate, and he asked Fowler how he would respond to similar criticism.
“Forecast tracking is getting much, much better,” Fowler explained. He said that the industry has made incredible strides in its ability to forecast where storms will go, but that there’s room for improvement in forecasting skills regarding intensity.
He also stressed the importance for folks to understand that the atmosphere is always moving, so if the wind changes direction even a little, that can have a big impact on how a storm moves and develops.
For any young professionals interested in the field of meteorology, Fowler explained that there are different practice areas to explore. You could work in operations, go into broadcast meteorology or specialize in a specific industry like forestry or aviation.
When asked what he does after hurricane season is over, Fowler joked that his first move is to “take a vacation.”
All jokes aside, Fowler reminded attendees that even though 2020 has been the “year of the gulf,” Lowcountry residents shouldn’t use this year to set their expectations for 2021. He explained that every year, the slate is wiped clean, and that each hurricane season is completely different than the one prior.
That’s a concept that Fowler knows better than most. He thinks back to Hurricane Betsy, when he was a five-year-old boy stuffing towels under the doors of a relative’s house to keep water from coming in. “I admit I was scared to death. But from five years old on, I was passionate about weather.”
After a morning of hurricane talk, we have no doubt that Rob Fowler is passionate about weather. We’re thankful that he uses his passion to keep us informed and ready for the next storm.