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September 10, 2010 / Dave Gorham

Of Dirt Bikes and Blackberries…During Hurricane Season

It’s the end of a hectic week. The clock says 5 PM and the calendar says the 3-day weekend begins right now. If your 3-day weekends are like mine, you hit the eject button and turn your back on the office while thinking of dirt biking and water skiing. Tuesday is a long way off.

When it's 5 PM, Dave hits the ejection button - no matter what he's doing. Photo: Wikipedia.

Except the world keeps turning and, most likely, your business keeps running. Disasters could be right around the corner. You, like me, figure most things will be just fine. Most times you’d be right.

Friday afternoon, Labor Day weekend, 2010. The Atlantic Basin, tropically-speaking, has been busy for the past couple of weeks: six storms in 14 days. Though there’s nothing currently in the Gulf of Mexico, water temperatures are high and other factors also suggest staying alert to all possibilities. Earlier in the week your hurricane team briefed you of this.

Saturday morning, at the lake house. The water is like glass and ideal for skiing, but friends are showing up for the short ride to the forest and a few hours of trail riding. Work is a million miles away, but your hurricane team is watching the tropics and they just sent you an email: an area of disturbed weather in the Gulf of Mexico has their attention. You pack your Blackberry into a plastic sandwich bag, stuff that into your CamelBak and kick-start your dirt bike. Briefly you think about your neighbors and hope the noise doesn’t wake them up.

Last year your business continuity team established a BCP (business continuity plan) for “just in case” scenarios. Hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, pandemics, “whatever” all factor into your plan. With forethought and advance planning, you feel confident your business is prepared the best it can be for whatever may befall it.

Not thinking about work. The author clears a road in the forest. Photo: DG.

Out on the trail a couple of the guys you’re riding with are stuck in a mud pit. Instead of helping them, you unpack your Blackberry. Is there an email from your hurricane team? No. You look at your mud-covered pals then back to your Blackberry (surely there must be something of interest in your Inbox!).

Back at the lake house it’s time for some afternoon tubing with the kids. Your Blackberry’s been quiet. You trust the plans you have put in place.

Later that night, cigar in hand and a quiet evening underway, your Blackberry quietly buzzes in your pocket and you take a look: “At 10PM CDT, Tropical Disturbance 46 consists of a broad area of low pressure located in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico. It is moving slowly to the northwest at around 5 mph. Maximum sustained winds are around 15-20 mph. Thunderstorms associated with this disturbance extend across the southwestern Gulf and Bay of Campeche.” Your hurricane team goes on to say development is possible and that the next update will arrive in six hours.

If a hurricane develops in the Gulf your BCP team’s course of action is based on a trigger report: when “X” happens, then “Y” is the response. It’s concise and not subjective. In this case, your plan tells you that when winds of 35mph or higher are expected within 72 hours, it’s time to begin preparing your three coastal locations. So far, the disturbance has not triggered your plan of action.

Early Sunday morning and the next email from your hurricane team arrives: thunderstorm activity has increased overnight and further development is possible. Your hurricane team has not put your locations into the path of the storm that may develop. The pancake batter is mixed, the bacon is sizzling and the kids are beginning to wake up.

Sunday afternoon and you almost missed your Blackberry buzzing with the next email. With the boat engine and the shrieking kids, who could blame you? Your hurricane team is indicating continuing strengthening of the storm in the Gulf, but the path of the storm is expected to be well west of your areas of concern. You reach for the sun block . . . again.

Sunday evening’s email: “It is likely that the low center in the southern Gulf will be classified as a tropical depression before it moves ashore into northeastern Mexico late tomorrow or on Tuesday. And there is a very good chance that the low could become a minimal tropical storm before it moves ashore.” Your operations are still not in the crosshairs, so you hit the “Blend” button on your blender. “And soon it will render, that frozen concoction that helps me hang on…” -Jimmy Buffet.

As delivered to your Blackberry. Image: ImpactWeather.

An hour later your phone rings: it’s an automated voice alert from your hurricane team with the specifics on the newly designated tropical depression. Moments later, an email with storm details and a graphic with the expected track buzzes in your pocket. A quick look confirms the previous forecasts: landfall is expected on the northern Mexican coast and even the “cone of uncertainty” is west of your operations.

Labor Day dawns sunny and surprisingly cool due to an unseasonably dry wind from the north. TV and radio reception at the lake are poor and you couldn’t watch/listen if you wanted to. Another email from your hurricane team announces the storm is now classified as Tropical Storm Hermine; the track is unchanged. You know you should hose the mud off your dirtbike, but the kids want to go tubing again.

By Monday evening Tropical Storm Hermine has developed an eye and by landfall it’s near hurricane strength. Over the course of the day, your hurricane team keeps you dutifully updated while you dutifully keep enjoying your holiday weekend.

When you return to work Tuesday morning, one of the guys you casually know says, “How about that tropical storm, huh? Where did that come from? Wow! Leave work Friday afternoon and there’s nothing there, come back to work Tuesday morning and there’s practically a hurricane down in southern Texas! Good thing that didn’t come up this way or we really could’ve been caught with our pants down!”

You smile and say, “Let me tell you about my hurricane team…”

ImpactWeather – Your Weather Department.  And always your hurricane team.

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