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Hurricane season begins

May 31, 2018
By CJ HADDAD (cjhaddad@breezenewspapers.com) , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, residents all over Southwest Florida are still weary of the devastating wreckage a massive storm can leave behind.

The impact from Hurricane Irma on Lee County last September was dramatic and swift, leaving thousands without power and many without homes.

Statewide, the storm took 84 lives.

Hurricane season officially starts today, June 1, and with it comes constant checking of the weather and the sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when storm "developments" start taking shape.

Dan Brown, senior hurricane specialist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Hurricane Center in Miami says as of now, it's looking like we're on track for "A slightly average to above average hurricane season."

According to NOAA, forecasters predict a 35 percent chance of an above-normal season, a 40 percent chance of a fairly normal season and a 25 percent chance of a below-average season.

NOAA forecasters also see a 70 percent likelihood of 10 to 16 named storms (winds 39 mph or higher), in which five to nine could become hurricanes (74 mph winds or higher), with one to four major hurricanes evolving (category 3 or higher, 111 mph-plus winds).

An average hurricane season sees 12 named storms, with six becoming hurricanes and three reaching major category levels.

Last season, the Atlantic saw 17 named storms, with 10 turning into hurricanes, breeding six major category storms, of course including Irma.

The University of Colorado seems to have found the crystal ball when it comes to these matters, being the go-to source and releasing predictions every year since 1984.

They predict we will see 14 named storms, including seven hurricanes, three of them becoming major.

We saw our first named storm of the year in Alberto, whose rains were not as torrential as expected.

Brown says a named storm early in the year does not mean we're in for a rough ride.

"Pre-season storms do not necessarily foretell an active hurricane season. There have been pre-season storms before various types of hurricane seasons. It does give everyone a reminder that hurricane season is beginning and now is the time to make your preparedness actions. It is a good time before the next storm to find out if you live in an evacuation zone, stock up on supplies and nonperishable food and water, make sure your insurance is up-to-date and see what you can do to strengthen your home."

A number of factors go into what we can expect over the next six months, including El Nino or La Nina taking form, as well as ocean and atmospheric parameters.

El Nino occurs when ocean temperatures in the tropical pacific are warm, with El Nina being when those same waters are cool.

When El Nino is in effect, it can potentially mean a slower hurricane season for the east coast.

"There's potential we will see El Nino conditions later in the summer, which can reduce hurricane activity in the Atlantic," Brown said.

Florida residents should hope for El Nino conditions towards the end of summer, seeing as that is the most active time for hurricane development.

Ninty-five percent of all major hurricanes occur after Aug.1; Irma hit Florida Sept.10 last year.

"Another factor we consider is wind sheara higher wind shear typically keeps hurricanes away as tropical storms are not able to strengthen," Brown added.

Brown said right now sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic are cooler than normal, another good sign of a potential lesser season.

Though signs may be pointing in a decent direction, by no means does this mean Southwest Florida will have it easy in 2018.

"In 1992 we saw a relatively calm season, that is until Hurricane Andrew hit, a Category 5 hurricane. You can never really know what can happen, it's all about being prepared," Brown advised.

In their preparedness, comes the development of new technology to better help these meteorologists navigate their maps and radar.

The National Hurricane Center's track map will become more focused, with the "cone" size of storms becoming smaller than ever.

The "cone" represents where the center of a tropical cyclone may be heading, a smaller cone results in a better idea of where the center of the storm will travel over time.

"Other new products we are implementing are storm surge watch and higher-accuracy wind maps," Brown said.

"Our storm surge watch can determine who is at the highest risk for flooding due to storm surge(when water levels rise and leads to fatal flooding), also our new wind maps give us a better idea of when individual communities can expect tropical force winds to better help them prepare."

Seawalls took a beating from Irma, with its strong winds and waves damaging many coastlines that are so vital to Florida and especially Cape Coral.

"Large swells and rough surf conditions generated by tropical storms and hurricanes can cause significant beach erosion and damage to sea walls. Even if the storm does not make a direct impact on an area, large waves generated by the storm can cause damage at the coastline. This can be exacerbated by storm surge since the surge is often accompanied by destructive waves," warned Brown.

Brown says his offices are working with Lee County and others to keep them in connection on the latest developments of potential tropical storms and hurricanes.

This back-and-forth is vital to officials as they make key decisions based on the information they receive.

One of those people the NOAA and Natonal Hurricane Center keeps in touch with is Lee County Emergency Planning Manager Lee Mayfield.

"They're a great resource," Mayfield said.

"We collaborate with the NOAA in Tampa and the National Hurricane Center to keep us up to date on storm developments, as well as our local meteorologists."

A focus of the Division of Public Safety is their after-action reports.

"Whatever the disaster may be, we're broadening our reports. We always want to do better. Whether it's short, medium or long-term changes."

Mayfield said they are boosting their preparedness for staffing of first responders, making sure they and their families are safe and can get where they need to if a disaster occurs.

Many first responders have no choice to evacuate, as their duties require them to stay and be of service.

Last year, around 300,000 people evacuated while 14 shelters housed 35,000 Lee County residents, including two-thousand pets and two special needs shelters.

"We are paying special attention to our shelter operations and those who help us get them together," Mayfield said.

"Our shelter decisions are based on the storm, we feel confident in our shelter locations no matter how many we need to open. We're working on staffing, food, investing in generators, impact glass, square-footage and capacity."

Mayfield advises to have a plan to stay with a friend of family member, even a hotel, outside of an evacuation zone if you can.

Shelter opening information can be found at Leeeoc.com, as well as social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

"The more you prepare, the better your outcome," Mayfield added.

He says to develop and talk through a family disaster plan and to build a disaster supply kit.

"You can print out our family emergency plan, where it has questions to help shape what your family should do if a disaster scenario was to occur on our website."

Keeping records, making sure food and water is available for humans and pets alike, as well as getting you medicine in order are some things to add to your disaster supply kit according to Mayfield.

Staying up-to-date on the latest information is key as well.

"Knowledge is power in these situations."

He says to bookmark solid news websites and to keep tabs on the latest when a storm development takes place.

For more information throughout the season, visit leegov.com/publicsafety.

Hurricane preparedness tips, compiled into our 2018 Hurricane Guide, may also be found on this website. Look under News or click on the Hurricane Guide button on the home page.

 
 
 

 

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