Abstract

Hurricane evacuation warnings from local officials are one of the most significant determinants of households’ evacuation departure times. Consequently, it is important to know how long after the National Hurricane Center (NHC) issues a hurricane watch or warning that local officials wait to issue evacuation warnings. The distribution of local evacuation warning issuance delays determined from poststorm assessment data shows a wide range of warning issuance delay times over an 85-h time span, although the vast majority of times fall within a 40-h window. Nearly 30% of the jurisdictions issued evacuation warnings before an NHC hurricane warning. Only 5% delayed the decision for more than 25 h after the NHC hurricane warning. The curves for warning issuance delays, using both the NHC watch and NHC warning issuance times as reference points, are very different from the warning issuance curves observed for the rapid-onset events. The hurricane data exhibit much more of an “S shape” than the exponential shape that is seen for rapid-onset data. Instead, curves for three different types of storm tracks, defined by a perpendicular/parallel dimension and a straight/meandering dimension, follow three noticeably different logistic distributions. The data also indicate that warnings were issued significantly earlier for coastal counties than for inland counties. These results have direct practical value to analysts that are calculating evacuation time estimates for coastal jurisdictions. Moreover, they suggest directions for future research on the reasons for the timing of local officials’ hurricane evacuation decisions.

Significance Statement

Local officials rely on National Hurricane Center (NHC) hurricane watches and warnings to guide them in issuing evacuation warnings but do not automatically issue evacuation warnings as soon as the NHC issues a watch or warning. Thus, this study constructed a database that contains the timing of NHC hurricane watches and warnings, as well as local evacuation warnings, for 20 hurricanes that threatened 290 U.S. jurisdictions from 1979 to 2008. The data reveal distinct curves for three different types of storm tracks, defined by a perpendicular/parallel dimension and a straight/meandering dimension. These results are of direct practical value to analysts who calculate evacuation time estimates for coastal jurisdictions. Moreover, they suggest directions for future research on the reasons for the timing of local officials’ hurricane evacuation warnings.

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