The premature end to a weather pattern that suppresses the formation of hurricanes has prompted the nation’s top weather agency to dramatically boost the chances of major, deadly storms during the remainder of the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says it now expects 10 to 17 tropical storms, an increase from its May prediction of nine to 15 (wind speeds of 39 mph or higher), and five to nine hurricanes (74 mph or higher winds) with two to four becoming major storms (111 mph or higher winds) by the end of October.
Despite the gloomy forecast from the NOAA, Mississippi-based C Spire says it is ready, thanks to bolstered network resources and staff, to rapidly respond to emergencies and widespread natural disasters if they occur during the height of the hurricane season.
The telecom and technology services firm reinforces its extensive wireless and wireline networks and prepares its workforce for a wide range of potential disasters, including major weather events such as hurricanes. The company routinely reviews and updates its emergency and crisis communications plans and conducts year-round drills.
“Our preparations are designed to give customers maximum reliability for all of their communications at the time of greatest need,” said Mark Rigney, Senior Vice President of Core Networks for C Spire. “When disaster strikes, people depend on telecommunications as a lifeline to the outside world. We are committed to providing our customers with the best network coverage possible in every situation.”
NOAA forecasters said the main reason for the increased risk was an earlier-than-expected end to El Nino, a weather pattern that happens when Pacific Ocean water temperatures remain above normal for a long period of time, pushing strong winds from west to east and affecting weather patterns across the U.S.
When NOAA researchers made their initial prediction in May, they thought the El Nino pattern would continue through the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from mid-August to late October. Historically, these peak months produce 95 percent of the season’s hurricanes.
“This updated outlook is a stark reminder that we need to be prepared,” Rigney said. “It only takes one disaster to change lives forever. While weather professionals continue to improve the accuracy of their hurricane forecasts, individuals, businesses and communities must prepare now for response and recovery from severe weather events.”
2019 has proven to be an unprecedented year for severe weather with record rainfall, historic backwater flooding in the Mississippi Delta and an alarming number of tornadoes. The Atlantic hurricane season, which began on June 1, already has produced two named storms, including Hurricane Barry, which made landfall in Louisiana last month.
2018 was considered an above average season with 15 named storms and eight hurricanes, two of which were considered major, including Florence, which dropped nearly 36 inches of rain on North Carolina, and Michael, whose 155-mile-per-hour winds battered the Florida panhandle and produced 39 fatalities and $16 billion in damages.
“Last year was an active season with two major hurricanes making landfall on U.S. soil,” Rigney said. “With nearly 38 million people living in hurricane-prone coastal areas, now is the time for individuals, families and businesses to prepare their emergency plans, create emergency supply kits and learn evacuation routes.”
Rigney said all C Spire employees and contractors, along with an extensive suite of network resources, will be on “high alert” throughout the remainder of the 2019 hurricane season. The firm also is ready to activate its Emergency Response and Crisis Communications plans, which guide the use of resources and personnel.
C Spire routinely takes precautionary steps and puts restoration teams through various training and test scenarios and masses equipment and materials to protect critical network facilities and cell sites. The company uses back up batteries and diesel generators at mobile sites and switching centers and makes arrangements for replacement fuel supplies in case normal fuel delivery options are interrupted by commercial power outages or road closures.
The company operates multiple hurricane-ready “hardened switches” that provide added protection and service assurance for customers. The high-tech telecommunications switching facilities are designed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane with winds up to 155 miles an hour, connect millions of calls, wireless data transmissions, video content and other critical services daily for consumer and business customers. In addition to hardened and reinforced shells, the all-steel and concrete buildings house large-scale 500-kilowatt diesel power generators, a grid of back up batteries and other redundant back-up systems, operations and technologies.
C Spire also relies on an extensive network of microwave technology that can circumvent damaged or destroyed landline systems and ensure that communications can be routed to its final destination, Rigney said. “Microwave technology can assist with communications during natural disasters when landline systems are down,” he added.
In addition, C Spire offers companies of all sizes a suite of disaster recovery and business continuity services through several commercial data centers that operate 24/7/365 with the industry’s highest design, construction and operation certification through the Uptime Institute.
Some of the structures feature a 9-inch think external steel-reinforced precast concrete walls welded to 6-foot-wide spread footings. In addition to multiple redundant power feeds, the buildings also boast giant diesel generators each capable of producing 1.65 megawatts of continuous power, enough to light thousands of homes and businesses.
“This infrastructure, our continuing network investments and our dedicated, customer-inspired workforce will help ensure that essential communications continue for our consumer and business customers even when we experience severe weather events, natural disasters and other life-threatening situations,” Rigney said.
The company is coordinating its emergency response efforts with local, state and federal agencies and organizations, including the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, the Florida Division of Emergency Management, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Weather Service, the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army.