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Below average hurricane season predicted

May 15, 2017
By JIM LINETTE (jlinette@breezenewspapers.com) , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Researchers at Colorado State University released a forecast for a below average hurricane season for 2017, which starts on June 1.

The hurricane research center, founded and led by the late Dr. William Gray until his death in April 2016 and now headed by Dr. Phil Klotzbach, indicates conditions seem to favor 11 named storms to form during the Atlantic Ocean season, including four hurricanes of which two are classified as major (Category 3 or stronger).

The report claims there is a 24 percent probability of a major hurricane making landfall on the East Coast of the United States, including Florida. The average over the last century has been 31 percent. CSU will update its forecast by June 1.

"Last year was predicted as a low or average season, but last year we broke an 11-year streak of not having a landfalling hurricane impact Florida," said Lee County Emergency Management public safety director Rob Farmer. "Not so much on our coast, but the east coast was impacted by Hurricane Matthew."

Klotzbach's forecast differs slightly with one released a few days later by AccuWeather, a private weather forecasting service, predicting a less active season on average. AccuWeather predicts 10 named storms, five of those becoming hurricanes and three reaching major strength. More importantly, meteorologists anticipate three named storms making a U.S. landfall.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center in Maryland is anticipating a release of its findings for 2017 by May 25.

Fact Box

Atlantic storm names for 2017

* Arlene

* Bret

* Cindy

* Don

* Emily

* Franklin

* Gert

* Harvey

* Irma

* Jose

* Katia

* Lee

* Maria

* Nate

* Ophelia

* Philippe

* Rina

* Sean

* Tammy

* Vince

* Whitney

The Atlantic hurricane season covers the North Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. Season starts June 1 and runs through Nov. 30 each year.

The CSU prediction is slightly below the 30-year average of 12 named storms, six hurricanes and two majors.

CSU uses statistical data collected over the past 30 years along with sea-level pressures and sea-surface temperatures in the Atlantic and eastern Pacific Oceans.

Taking into account Hurricane Matthew that hugged the U.S. East Coast causing inland rainfall and flooding, landfalling hurricanes in the U.S. have been below average for the past 10 years. The total hurricane landfalls in the U.S. from 2006 through 2015 was seven.

Outside that time period, 2005 was a record-breaking season, the last time a Category 3 or stronger hurricane (Wilma) hit the U.S.

Klotzbach indicated the northern Atlantic has water temperatures running colder than average and cooler topical sea-surface temps that are unfavorable for the development of hurricanes, a mitigating factor known as El Nino, which has a 50 percent chance of developing in the coming months. Some signs seem to indicate it already may be happening.

El Nino tends to produce upper level winds that inhibit storm formation or tears them apart with wind shear. Some forecasters think El Nino will strengthen by early summer.

The most active recent Atlantic hurricane seasons were in 2010 and 2012 when 19 named storms with 12 hurricanes occurred both years, including Hurricane Sandy that devastated New Jersey in 2012.

"Regardless of the forecasts we pay attention to them, but we keep to the adage that it only takes one for it to be a bad year," said Farmer. "We are not preparing for the average or low projections, we prepare for the one. Sometimes storms have relatively minor impact, but its that one we worry about."

Klotzback predicted an "approximately average" season for 2016, calling for 12 named storms, five hurricanes with two major events. Actual data: 15 named storms, seven hurricanes, four majors.

Farmer said all of the county's response partners throughout the community - law enforcement, fire departments, other government and emergency operations, and countless independent agencies like Red Cross - are brought together for an orientation process so they are all aware of what the predictions are, they know where they will be, when to be at the operations center and what their role is.

"We do a variety of events to assure that the staff and our partners know the role they play and what to do," said Farmer. "When we activate they know what comes next. We make sure our employees and their families are prepared so we can get to work for the citizens."

Residents, especially those new to the area, should attend one of many hurricane seminars conducted each year in May, June and July.

"Our main message to the community is don't be complacent. Take the reports seriously," Farmer said. "When we issue an evacuation order we mean it. We won't issue an evacuation suggestion or voluntary one. People need to heed it and go. Don't wait until the last minute. You can hide from the wind, but you can't outrun the water (storm surge)."

Emergency officials encourage citizens with iPhones and Android devices to download the updated version of the LeeAlert app which can be used to find out what evacuation zone you live in and provide links to other important information sources.

"CodeRed is our own emergency alert method with which we can send messages to your phone based on your location," said Farmer. "We used it recently with the wildfires, too. Cape Coral has its own phone app called Ping4Alerts, so we encourage people in the Cape to download the city's app."

People living on the barrier islands of Pine Island, Sanibel and Captiva are the first ordered to evacuate in order to have plenty of time to get to safety, said Farmer.

"We issue evacuations from the coast inland," said Farmer. "People who might need extra time also are encouraged to leave first along with those with special medical conditions going into shelters. Special needs folks should register now because we stop registrations when we activate the emergency operations."

More than 200 colored/lettered tags have been placed on evacuation route and shelter signs throughout the county. These tags emphasize the importance of knowing your storm surge and evacuation zone for when it's your time to leave.

"When there is a possibility of a storm residents should start paying close attention to the media - newspapers, radio, TV - for information," said Farmer. "We also utilize all the social media outlets to distribute information."

Residents needing transportation to and from emergency shelters will be able to use LeeTran buses. Once an evacuation notice is issued, LeeTran will discontinue its regular fares.

All county information can be found on the website (www.leeeoc.com) as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

The National Hurricane Center issues a hurricane watch approximately 48 hours before a region can expect to experience hurricane conditions. A hurricane warning indicates a storm with sustained winds of at least 74 mph is expected within 36 hours.

Whether there is an evacuation order issued or not, household hurricane preparedness kits should contain necessary items such as batteries, flashlights, radios, medical supplies, fresh water (one gallon per person, per day) and food to last several days in the event of a power outage. It doesn't take a named storm to knock out power for an extended period.

For residents new to Southwest Florida, it is recommended they attend one or more of the many hurricane seminars throughout the area by the county, media and other agencies. Seminars are listed on the county website (visit leegov.com/publicsafety and search "seminars" for a list of scheduled county seminars).

Seminars help people become more familiar with storms, warnings, tracking and weather radar, storm surges, tornadoes associated with storms, shelter locations (handicapped, special needs and pet friendly ones), and evacuation routes. Watch media outlets for dates and times of these seminars at area libraries, schools and other meeting facilities.

Seminars are conducted by meteorologists, police, fire and emergency management personnel. If an evacuation is ordered, it is imperative to have a family plan to stay with friends or relatives, book a hotel room out of the path of a storm, or in designated public shelters as a last resort.

Lee County residents can apply online to reserve space in the special needs shelters. They also can apply by phone by calling EOC at 239-533-0622. A completed application can be mailed, faxed (239-477-3636) or emailed to emspecialneeds@leegov.com.

Those with special needs should be accompanied by a companion or caregiver as shelters have limited staff. Food and water is provided at the shelter, but officials recommend everyone bring extra drinks and snacks. Each person with special dietary restrictions is responsible for bringing their own food. Also bring along personal hygiene items for up to seven days, medications, blankets, books, cards or games. A cot is provided for the person registered, but caregivers should bring something to sleep on.

Farmer stresses that people with special needs must register in advance. Don't wait until the day of a storm. Call 239-533-0640 with questions about the special needs program or visit www.safelee.org.

Service animals are allowed in all shelters, but pets are only allowed at the special needs shelter and at two other pet friendly shelters South Fort Myers High School and East Lee County High School. Not all shelters are opened for each storm, so pay attention to news reports to find out which ones will open.

"We realize that pets are a barrier for people to leave, so we want to make it as easy as possible," said Farmer.

More detailed hurricane and shelter lists are available on the Emergency Management website at www.leeeoc.com, or call 239-533-3622.

 
 
 

 

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