Scoff at hurricane preparations at own peril as season begins

June 1, 2014 

Hurricane Season Research

In this April 29, 2014 photo, Joe Cione, who studies how storms interact with the ocean at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrationís Hurricane Research Division in Miami, displays a drone he hopes to use this hurricane season for research. NOAA researchers plan to test five or six drones in the peak of hurricane season that will be transmitting data that could help forecasters understand what makes some storms fizzle while others strengthen into monsters. ( AP Photo/J Pat Carter)


June's arrival brings more than hot and humid weather and months of sweat and rain. The six-month hurricane season is upon us once again, officially opening today.

So what, right? How many times can people hear the same drumbeat year after year about potential storms wreaking havoc on communities before it becomes just another "the sky is falling" mantra?

And that admonition to "be prepared"? Why bother, you might ask. Florida's been hurricane free for almost a decade now. The last hurricane to strike the state was Wilma in 2005.

Can our good luck continue? Odds are bleak on that.

BayNews 9's chief meteorologist Mike Clay articulated the conundrum, calling the lackadaisical mindset "hurricane amnesia" in a column in Herald's annual Hurricane Survival Guide published on May 25.

Floridians would do well to remember the "hyperactive hurricane seasons of 2004-2005," as Clay also stated -- those back-to-back nightmares that destroyed communities along the Gulf Coast and elsewhere.

Manatee County has been blessed with a very long stretch of catastrophe-free years of hurricane damage, but that shouldn't be justification for ignoring simple precautions and planning to ensure family safety and welfare in the event of a storm strike.

Why gamble? It does not take a herculean effort nor a monumental amount of time to help ensure your family will be best prepared to survive disaster.

Sure, it might not happen. "Might" is the operative word there. We "might" have another mild hurricane season with nothing more than heavy rain bothering Manatee County.

One of the nation's leading hurricane forecasters, the team out of Colorado State University, predicts a below average season of names storms and hurricanes -- only nine, below the long-term average of a dozen, and just one a major hurricane of Category 3 or higher.

Like the CSU team, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expects the formation of El Niño and cooler surface temperature in the Atlantic Ocean to reduce the number of storms.

Tellingly, though, NOAA urges people to be prepared. It only takes one storm to devastate communities.

Think Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The storm hammered the East Coast, especially New York and New Jersey, with a devastating storm surge that destroyed neighborhoods.

This year, NOAA has a new mapping tool to inform coastal residents of the threat of storm surge, with the technology able to pinpoint surge landfall and height. This year, too, drones will be deployed inside hurricanes to provide forecasters with valuable data to better understand storms.

Simple tasks will leave Manatee County residents poised to weather a storm. Those include:

Stock up on water, nonperishable food and batteries. Keep a first-aid kit and handbook along with flashlights and a portable radio within reach.

Store important documents -- insurance policies, birth certificates, passports, bank account and credit card numbers -- in a safe place.

Know the nearest evacuation shelter. Or plan your own escape route and destination and tell relatives and friends.

Create an inventory of your home's contents, for insurance purposes.

Those are but a few preparation tips.

One more warning: A 6-foot storm surge will flood a large number of Manatee County neighborhoods, from Anna Maria Island and Cortez all the way east deep into the Manatee River watershed.

In 2004, Francis barreled into Florida's Big Bend region as a mere tropical storm. But the 6-foot storm surge produced heavy damage.

That could happen here.

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