Be aware, prepare as hurricane season begins

The 2017 hurricane season began on June 1 and runs through Nov. 30. The time to prepare is now.

The 2017 hurricane season began June 1 and will continue through Nov. 30. Shown here is a radar image captured by the National Weather Service in Ruskin of Hurricane Matthew as it scraped Florida’s eastern coastline last year. LOIS KINDLE CAPTURE of a National Weather Service Radar Image

By LOIS KINDLE

It’s June and as anyone who lives in Florida knows, that means lots of rain and potential storms. The 2017 hurricane season has begun.

Between now and Nov. 30 it’s important for us to keep a watchful eye on the tropics. NOAA forecasters are calling for a normal to above-normal season this year, with 11 to 17 named storms, five to nine of which are expected to become hurricanes. And two of those will be major, a Category 3 storm or higher.

Warmer sea-surface temperatures in the North Atlantic and the lack of an El Niño this year, are contributing factors.

“We can’t tell you whether they’re going to make landfall and where, but more storms mean more opportunities for impact,” said Daniel Noah, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Ruskin. “Until Hurricane Matthew last year, we hadn’t had a hurricane make landfall in Florida for 10 years. (The last one was Wilma in 2005.)”

But that doesn’t mean we should be complacent, he said.

The Tampa Bay area, including coastal communities like Ruskin, Apollo Beach and Gibsonton, are extremely vulnerable. Their elevations range from slightly less-than-three to about 5 and one-half feet above sea level.

“If you live west of U.S. 41, you’ve got problems even in a tropical storm due to above-normal tides and especially storm surge,” Noah said. “Storm surge is not a tidal wave,” he explained. “It comes in as a fast-moving river of water and keeps getting higher and higher. It’s very destructive.”

The stronger the hurricane, the greater the potential for storm surge, depending on when and where the storm hits and how fast it’s moving.

According to statistical information supplied by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Hurricane Charley, which was a Category 4 storm when it hit the Florida West Coast in 2004, produced a storm surge of 6- to 8-feet. Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall in Louisiana in 2005, carried with it a storm surge of nearly 28 feet that inundated Pass Christian, Miss.

That’s why it’s critical to evacuate when officials tell residents to go.

“The damage from wave action in a Category 3 hurricane would be horrific,” Noah said.

Even folks who live on higher ground are not without risk. Winds, freshwater flooding and tornadoes often accompany even a Category 1 hurricane or tropical storm.

Although the 2017 hurricane season could potentially have more named storms, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to land near us.

Dan Noah, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Ruskin, advises residents not to become complacent when it comes to hurricanes. Despite the good fortune this area has had, it remains important for everyone to plan ahead in the event one actually does make landfall here. LOIS KINDLE FILE PHOTO

The 2010 season had 19 named storms and 12 hurricanes, but only one tropical storm made landfall in the U.S. during that Atlantic Hurricane Season. By comparison, when Hurricane Andrew hit Homestead as a Category 5 hurricane in 1992, there were only six named storms that year.

Officials say there’s always a chance we won’t get hit, but preparation is essential.

“Our area has a one-in-200 chance of having impacts like Hurricane Andrew each year,” Noah said. “Eighty-seven eye walls have passed within 100 miles of Tampa Bay since 1851. The last one to hit (this area) was the Tarpon Springs Hurricane, a Category 3, in 1921. It had sustained winds of 115 mph and a tidal surge of 11 feet.

“All it takes is one storm to ruin your day.”

Click here to read “What you should know this hurricane season.”

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