There may be something to the adage that the Bradenton-Sarasota area leads a charmed life when it comes to hurricanes.
It’s true, Florida’s Atlantic coast and panhandle have more.
But while Bradenton-Sarasota may be relatively fortunate, it is not immune to tropical storms.
“It only takes one,” atmospheric scientist Bob Bunting said Friday during the Adapting to Changing Climate symposium at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee.
“It’s not necessarily that we are going to have more hurricanes, but they will be different, and not in a good way,” Bunting said.
In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area and caused massive flood damage.
A month later, Hurricane Irma, which trekked relentlessly across the Atlantic Ocean from near the Cape Verde Islands, knocked on Florida’s door.
While the Bradenton area was spared major damage — officials said the area had “dodged a bullet” — circumstances could easily have been different.
Damage from Irma and Harvey was estimated at between $150 billion and $200 billion, Bunting said.
Hurricane Florence, which hit the Carolinas in September 2018, caused an estimated $20 billion in damage.
Damage from Hurricane Michael, which made landfall in the Florida panhandle in October, caused another $10 billion in damage in Florida and Georgia.
For those still not persuaded that there is a growing threat from hurricanes, consider that Florida’s population has ballooned to 21 million and the state has more than 1,300 miles of coastline.
Faced with the advance of Hurricane Irma, nearly six million Floridians had to evacuate, making it one of the largest mass evacuations in history, Bunting said.
The third highest index for accumulated cyclone energy, a measure of a named storm’s potential for wind and storm surge destruction, was recorded in 2018, along with 10 Category 5 storms, the second highest ever.
The good news is that hurricane forecasting in the past was more like “alchemy” and today is more like “chemistry,” Bunting said.
“I am still awed when I see a photograph of a hurricane taken from space. It looks like a galaxy in the ocean,” he said.
Looking ahead to the 2019 hurricane season, Bunting offered an early forecast of 8-11 named storms, 3-5 hurricanes, 1-2 major hurricanes and predicted that it wouldn’t differ much from 2018, again offering the caution “it only takes one.”
With Florida’s huge coastal exposure, the state needs to be doing more to protect its shoreline, Bunting said.
“It’s not that you can’t mitigate, but it is a big expense,” he said.
“Our shoreline needs to be managed more and more. It would seem that we would be leading the world in climate change discussion but we aren’t,” Bunting said.
Friday’s symposium was held in the USF Sarasota-Manatee’s Selby Auditorium and attracted a capacity crowd.