By LOIS KINDLE
Here we go again, folks. The Atlantic hurricane season starts June 1, and with it comes some of Mother Natures’s most formidable forces.
While we all look forward to having daily afternoon showers, no one enjoys keeping watch on the tropics throughout the summer and into November.
It’s no wonder. After Hurricane Ian hit the Ft. Myers area last year, we saw first-hand the devastation of what a direct hit by a major storm would mean to the Tampa Bay area.
This year’s Colorado State University hurricane forecast calls for a bit below-average season with 13 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes (Cat. 3 storms with winds of at least 111 mph). The forecast is based on the likely development of El Nino, which will create stronger shearing winds over at least the Caribbean Sea and nearby parts of the 5,000-mile-long Atlantic Basin and the creation of fewer storms in the Gulf of Mexico. El Nino’s wind shear rips storms apart and can stir them into the north Atlantic.
Even though we could see fewer storms this season, the ones we do see could be higher in intensity due to fueling by warmer temperatures in deeper Atlantic waters, said Dan Noah, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Ruskin. “More fuel means stronger hurricanes.”
The University of Colorado projections are based on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 30-year average, which is calculated every 10 years, and a number of other statistical and dynamic models.
Whether this season turns out to be below average or not, being prepared cannot be stressed enough.
“Ian could have easily hit Tampa Bay,” Noah said. “Even a 10-mile wobble to the west would have made a world of difference. Cedar Key and the entire West Central Florida coast would have faced major storm surge.”
Noah noted Hurricane Ian was briefly a Cat. 5 hurricane with 160 mph winds over open water before making landfall last Sept. 28 as a strong Cat. 4 storm at Cayo Costa, a barrier island west of Fort Myers.
According to a new report in April by the National Hurricane Center, Ian wreaked havoc in the Ft. Myers area and caused a total of $109 billion in damages in Florida, before moving on to the Carolinas. The hurricane is attributed to 166 direct and indirect storm-related deaths, making it the fourth-deadliest hurricane in the United States in the past 60 years.
Only two hurricanes were more costly: Katrina in 2004, $161 billion, and Harvey in 2017, $125 billion – both due to water.
Ian had a storm surge of 15-feet above the sand on the beach, Noah said, citing the report of a woman who had evacuated every major storm since Hurricane Donna in 1960 but didn’t during Ian.
She went through a terrifying experience as she watched a barge moving toward her house; fortunately it was deflected by a palm tree. Nevertheless, her home suffered horrific damage from the storm.
Noah said there were also reports of handwritten, goodbye notes found after the storm from people who died, expressing regret that they didn’t evacuate and how much they would miss their families. Many of Ian’s victims were ages 65 and older.
“Few people understand how bad storm surge can be,” Noah said. “Ian’s 15-foot surge went inland seven miles. Waters from Hurricane Katrina surged 30-miles in some places.”
As he does every year, Noah stresses the most dangerous part of a hurricane is water, noting half of all deaths are due to storm surge. Other fatalities are due to river flooding, over-land flooding, rip currents and the like. Even after a hurricane passes, there are always wind-driven, flooding rain and tornadoes.
“To survive the storm, run from the water and hide from the wind,” Noah said. “And don’t use the forecast cone to make safety decisions. Focus instead on the impact areas, which often extend outside the cone, and on local media sources – who are staffed by people who live here and have contacts with Hillsborough County Emergency Management and the local weather service office where Noah works – rather than national media.”
Now is the time to make an emergency plan for you and your family. This includes knowing your evacuation zone, where you’d go if need be, having several ways of receiving weather alerts and warnings, verifying your insurance coverage in advance, securing important documents in waterproof containers, strengthening your home and preparing a hurricane kit.
Hurricane kit supplies include:
• A gallon of water per person per day for seven days
• Three to seven days of nonperishable foods.
• A seven-day supply of food, medications and extra water for both people and pets.
• NOAA weather radio with tone alert.
• Battery-powered radio, extra batteries.
• Battery-powered flashlight, extra batteries.
• Cell phone and charger.
• Two-week supply of medications, including pain relievers.
• Updated list of family meds/dosages; doctor and pharmacy phone numbers.
• Manual can opener, disposable dishes and utensils.
• Personal hygiene items.
• Prescription eyeglasses, saline solution.
• First-aid kit.
• Important documents: driver’s license, insurance policies, insurance agent’s name/phone number, etc.
• Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation.
• Matches in a waterproof container.
• Cash and coins.
• Full tank of gas.
• Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities.
2023 Atlantic storm names areArlene, Bret, Cindy, Don, Emily, Franklin, Gert, Harold, Idalia, Jose, Katia, Lee, Margot, Nigel, Ophelia, Philippe, Rina, Sean, Tammy, Vince and Whitney.