PUBLISHED OCT. 27, 2016
By PENNY FLETCHER
The recent late-season Hurricane Matthew proves you can predict the weather — but only to a certain extent.
“Hurricane season typically goes from June through November,” said Dan Noah of the National Weather Service Ruskin Station. “But as we just saw with Matthew, some come late in the season, and actually they could come in any month of the year.”
The NWS Ruskin station has some of the best equipment in the state, and a staff that monitors it constantly, he said. But weather has a mind of its own, often challenging even the best reports based on temperatures, fronts and the path of the Gulf Stream.
The people who work for the NWS have a lot of help from the community.
WUSF Radio, Fox Channel 13 television and the University of South Florida are always on the alert and ready to help.
Under a national program called Weather Ready Nation started in 2014, people in all 50 states help weather forecasters get the word of danger out.
Civic groups, and more recently homeowners’ associations, select volunteer ambassadors to work with weather personnel.
Whether some areas are in a flood zone from large bodies of water like the gulf or oceans, or just near rivers and ponds, dangers can be alerted in advance if enough people are watching the weather.
“Not everybody who drives down Gibsonton Drive or other places on the west side of south county has looked at the signs that show how deep a floodwater surge would be if storms of certain magnitude were to come,” Noah said. Some say floodwaters on the west side of I-75 could rise to almost 20 feet. Those of us who remember Hurricane Elena in 1988 that never did hit directly but churned offshore remember much of Ruskin and Apollo Beach being evacuated, and people being rescued by boat.
“Never drive into water that could be too deep,” Noah said. “You could hydroplane even if you don’t go under water.”
The weather station has some ambassadors in Sarasota and Venice and is starting to ask for volunteers here as well.
Harry Ross of Valencia Lakes is the first ambassador here.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Ross. “E-mail lists are especially helpful.”
Any organization across all levels of government, any business or media, nonprofit organization, house of worship, homeowner association or other group may become an ambassador.
The NWS gives permission to use its logo to identify any who become volunteers in this service.
For more information, visit nws.noaa.gov/com/weatherreadynation/ambassadors.html