Every year come the June 1 start of the six-month Atlantic hurricane season, Florida's governor, emergency management officials and newspaper commentaries warn residents to guard against complacency about the storms.
One piece of recent history paints a sobering picture of the potential for future death and destruction from a powerful hurricane -- as happened to our neighbors to the south and east in 2004.
This week marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Charley's chilling path of havoc through Punta Gorda and Arcadia.
Herald reporter James A. Jones Jr.'s detailed account in a three-part series from Tuesday to Thursday should be must reading for anyone who eschews formulating survival and evacuation plans.
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As Charley roared up the Gulf of Mexico gaining strength and suddenly turning into a Category 4 monster with 145-mph winds, Manatee County and Tampa Bay stood in its predicted path. But the hurricane suddenly veered into Punta Gorda on Aug. 13, 2004, and then shot into Arcadia, leaving both in ruins. Myakka and Duette lost power for days.
Manatee County has avoided such destruction over the years, but this anniversary arrives as the Atlantic hurricane season enters its most turbulent time -- peaking in late August and September.
Despite a quiet season to date, we can ill afford to forget Charley's lessons and embrace the false perception that residents can merely ride out a hurricane. The lack of respect for storm surge -- deadlier than high winds -- has proven fatal time and time again.
Storm-surge deaths and destruction from Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy caught the nation's attention. Now, though, the nation is equipped with surge analysis data that cuts the margin of error from 5 feet to just a few inches.
Evacuation orders will now be based on far more accurate information, which should prompt an immediate response from residents threatened by surge.
In his reporting, Jones uncovered an eye-opening cautionary tale: Depending on surge prediction, Manatee County could order the evacuation of 220,000 -- which would jam roads and require some 53 hours to clear our highways. That should make it abundantly clear that the populace should not hesitate in fleeing a hurricane.
Steve Simpson, a Manatee emergency management officer, put evacuation orders in stark terms: "When we tell people to move, it will still be blue skies. If they wait for the first feeder bands from a hurricane, it's too late."
There's a warning to take to heart.
In the wake of Charlotte County's emergency operations center shutting down due to Charley damage and quickly shifting to Sarasota, Manatee County moved rapidly to plan and build a "fortress-like building" to house its operations, in Jones' words.
The $50 million facility, which opened in 2008, can withstand 200-mph winds and sits above potential flooding.
That foresight of county commissioners puts Manatee residents on stronger footing in the event of a hurricane. Charley also hastened other improvements in Manatee's emergency response operation, too.
Emergency operations centers around the state "now have the ability to withstand a hurricane, which they couldn't 10 years ago," Jeb Bush, Florida's governor when Charley struck, remarked on a return visit to Punta Gorda on Wednesday to mark the progress on Charlotte County's recovery.
While Charley did heightened people's wariness of hurricanes back then, 10 years later some trepidation has worn off. With 10 deaths and more than $15 billion in damage -- then the second costliest storm in U.S. history -- Charley should not fade from people's minds.