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Gloria and readiness

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FOR the second time in a month, residents of the Eastern United States have had a graphic lesson in the progress meteorologists have made over the past 50 years in tracking hurricanes, and in the corresponding advances that state and local government, and their leaders, have made in storm preparation. Both before and after last week's storm, the governors of affected states provided strong and calm leadership. The result produced a measured and practical response by citizens, rather than fear, to the prospect of a major storm. Calm pragmatism was a dominant atmosphere in the Northeast in preparation for last Friday's hurricane Gloria, as it had been last month in the Southeast, when hurricane Elena was making its presence felt. In both cases preparations had been thorough.

The progress made over the years in informing the public was sharply etched for veterans of the major storm that swirled out of nowhere 47 years ago and lashed southern New England's coast.

Northeasterners were fortunate that this past Friday's storm lost strength as quickly as it did. When winds and seas subsided, the storm's effects proved to be substantially less severe than had been forecast. Removal of debris and restoration of electricity began immediately. Here, too, careful preparation paid off.

Yet there is much progress still to be made -- in forecasting hurricanes, for one thing. For all their ability to pinpoint the current location of a storm, meteorologists are not able to say with certainty where it is going next.

Communities, too, could take additional if expensive steps to reduce an important vulnerability: the loss of electricity. At one time some 31/2 million East Coast homes were without power after the most recent storm, primarily because of power lines downed when trees or limbs fell on them. Given the importance of electricity and telephones, it would be worthwhile for electric and phone lines in new developments to be installed underground.

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