AUSTIN (KXAN) — All eyes are on the tropics right now as a tropical storm or hurricane may soon hit the Texas coast.
KXAN meteorologists are intensely following long-range computer models which, as of Wednesday afternoon, show a disturbance currently in the Caribbean may intensify into a tropical storm or hurricane this weekend or early next week as it churns through the western Gulf of Mexico.
Exactly where that storm will make landfall is still unknown, but models show the entire Texas coast or Louisiana coast could be in its direct path.
Red Cross preparing for possible storm
Eagerly watching the possible system is Richard McAlister, a meteorologist and spokesperson for the American Red Cross of Central and South Texas.
“We’ve been reaching out to our leaders and to our volunteers and keeping them apprised, inventorying our goods, making sure that our vehicles are ready and making sure that we have enough supplies on hand to respond,” he said.
Those supplies include food, cleaning supplies, cots, blankets and toys for kids. The Red Cross also regularly supports pet shelters during tropical storm season, should that be required.
“We have all of our supplies stationed here in Texas and we’re ready to roll,” McAlister said.
The American Red Cross has a 120-hour timeline they used to prepare for something like this. Five days prior to a potential disaster, the Red Cross will start preplanning operations, alerting staff and volunteers and getting supplies ready.
McAlister says they’re in the early stages of that right now and that this time of year they operate at a higher level of escalation, so many of those steps have already been taken.
“As the clock ticks down we’ll start executing that plan, moving those resources and people into position where they can help,” he said.
COVID-19 playing a role
While the Red Cross works to prepare for the possibility of a serious storm hitting the Texas coast, they are also having to deal with another natural disaster, COVID-19.
“We are abiding by the guidance that we’re given by state, federal and local communities as we interact with them,” McAlister said. The Red Cross has additional COVID-19 protocols that have been in place since last year, which include keeping people socially distanced and wearing masks.
“Here’s the bottom line, it does not change what we do, it changes how we do it,” McAlister said.
Four years later: lessons learned from Hurricane Harvey
This storm looms exactly four years after Hurricane Harvey dealt a devastating blow to the coastal Texas communities and dropped 40-50 inches of rain in southeast Texas.
KXAN reported back in 2017 that the Red Cross orchestrated 411,000 overnight shelter stays during and in the month after Harvey’s impact. They also had roughly 2,900 volunteers on the ground and spent millions of dollars on response.
When asked what the Red Cross took away from Hurricane Harvey, McAlister says the storm showed how important partnerships and teamwork is.
“With all of the resource and people and donors that we have, we still can’t do it alone so we need team partners,” he said.
McAlister says they’ve fostered strong relationships with community members, local and federal governments and other resources to step in and help as a result.
How to prepare
The American Red Cross says having a kit, making a plan and staying informed are the most important things when preparing for a potential storm.
That checklist includes things like turning the refrigerator and freezer to the coldest setting so that food will last longer if the power goes out, picking up things that could be easily tossed or moved by wind, and filling up your car’s gas tank.
While there are important physical steps that can be taken, McAlister says staying informed and having a reliable way to get information is also a key part of preparations.
The Red Cross will be providing routine updates for this storm, including preparatory steps and updates on the storm’s path. They say those will be posted twice a day and as the storm gets closer, more frequently.
You can also stay with KXAN, KXAN.com and our free KXAN Weather App for forecast updates as we gather new information over the coming days. Interests along the Texas coast should stay hurricane-aware.