Coast, local EMA keeps watchful eye on Gulf

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 12, 2004

People along the gulf coast and inland Alabama turned their attention to quickly developing storms, Bonnie and Charley, with both apparently destined for the Gulf of Mexico.

According to the National Hurricane Center as of 5:35 p.m. Tuesday, Tropical Storm Bonnie edged towards the northwest in the south-central Gulf.

However, she was expected to turn more to the north throughout the night and then turn northeast on Wednesday.

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The center stated Bonnie could strengthen in the warm Gulf waters and will likely become a full-blown hurricane before landfall.

As of Tuesday, no watches or warnings were posted, but people from the mouth of the Mississippi Rive throughout northwest Florida were keeping an anxious watch.

Locally, Bob Luman, Butler County Emergency Management Authority director, said nothing is really happening locally, just a cautious eye on the south.

&uot;We’re not really doing a lot about it now,&uot; he said. &uot;Right now we’ll just watch it and see where it looks like it is going to go or if it is going the other way and miss us.&uot;

Luman said he didn’t expect much trouble from Bonnie, but they are prepared.

&uot;We do have storm shelters if anything changes,&uot; he said. &uot;We can also bring in more if an evacuation occurs.

It is all according to the strength of the storm. I don’t think this one will be a problem.&uot;

Also keeping the hurricane center’s attention is Tropical Storm Charley that is moving west-northwest through the southeastern Caribbean Sea. They also expect Charley to grow stronger and eventually become a hurricane.

By the weekend, Charley may well be swirling northward through the Gulf of Mexico putting the Gulf Coast at risk once again.

Luman did say he concerns himself more over Charley.

He said is more concerned about the second storm.

&uot;I’m actually more concerned with the one behind it,&uot; he said. &uot;Tropical Storm Charlie, that is following this one, looks like it will be stronger. Charlie will probably be about a category two. Bonnie is not even going to get past winds of about 85 mph.

He said prediction call for Bonnie to go around Panama City and along Florida’s panhandle.

&uot;We won’t get a lot of people evacuating those areas because they will go on into Georgia or up to Montgomery,&uot; he said. &uot;We might get some rain out of it but that’s about it. I hope it just fizzles out where it is. That’s something we don’t need.&uot;

Bonnie is a small system centered almost 400 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River. It is currently moving west-northwest, and may turn north in the next few days. Landfall is hard to predict right now, but it is expected to be along the central Gulf coast. Bonnie is expected to gain strength rather quickly over the next 48 hours.

Over the next few days, you may hear various terms pertaining to the severe tropical storms.

The hurricane center offers the following definitions of the terms and you should make yourself familiar with them.

By international agreement, tropical cyclone is the general term for all cyclone circulations originating over tropical waters, classified by form and intensity as follows:

Tropical disturbance: A moving area of thunderstorms in the Tropics that maintains its identity for 24-hours or more.

Tropical depression: Rotary circulation at surface highest constant wind speed 38 miles per hour (33 knots).

Tropical storm: Distinct rotary circulation, constant wind speed ranges 39-73 miles per hour (34-63 knots).

Hurricane: Pronounced rotary circulation, constant wind speed of 74 miles per hours (64 knots) or more.

Small craft cautionary statements. When a tropical cyclone threatens a coastal area, small craft operators are advised to remain in port or not to venture into the open sea.

Gale Warnings may be issued when winds of 39 54 miles an hour (34-47 knots) are expected.

Storm Warnings may be issued when winds of 55 73 miles an hour (48-63 knots) are expected. If a hurricane is expected to strike a coastal area, gale or storm warnings will not usually precede hurricane warnings.

A Hurricane Watch is issued for a coastal area when there is a threat of hurricane conditions within 24-36 hours.

A Hurricane Warning is issued when hurricane conditions are expected in a specified coastal area in 24 hours or less. Hurricane conditions include winds of 74 miles an hour (64 knots) and/or dangerously high tides and waves. Actions for protection of life and property should begin immediately when the warning is issued.

Flash Flood Watch means a flash flood is possible in the area; stay alert.

Flash Flood Warning means a flash flood is in imminent; take immediate action.

Tornadoes spawned by hurricanes sometimes produce severe damage and casualties. If a tornado is reported in your area, a warning will be issued.

In preparation for Bonnie and Charley, the Montgomery American Red Cross chapter placed its Emergency Services Vehicle and response team on standby to await either one or both storms’ landfall.

Response vehicles from strategic locations along the Florida panhandle will move into position beginning Wednesday depending on the projected landfall site.

At the present time the ERV from Montgomery is prepared to travel to Panama City.

Staff Writer Rick Couch contributed to this report.