A survivor's tough lesson as hurricane season opens

The forecasts for a fairly normal hurricane season may lull Floridians into a storm stupor, but the lesson of Andrew should not be lost on anyone.

Twenty years ago, Andrew looked like a nothing tropical storm until its swift intensification into a Category 5 killer right before landfall in South Florida.

After some 25 years of evading major hurricanes, residents there shrugged off a tropical storm. But dozens perished in the August 1992 hurricane with almost total devastation to Homestead and Homestead Air Force Base and $30 billion in damages.

Hurricane survivors present the best warnings possible about hurricane season, which starts today. Steve Garrison's experience with Andrew tells the tale well.

"We had a party that night, as was typical prior to Andrew," the Homestead resident told the Associated Press for a report published Monday in the Herald.

"People would put masking tape on their windows or plywood and felt like they were fairly well protected. That turned out to be nothing but a joke.

"I just felt like such a jerk for having exposed my wife and children to the devastation of the hurricane," Garrison recounted.

But he vowed never to do that again. "The RV and I are gone at the first hint of a hurricane."

Those strong words of warning should resound with everyone.

Florida State University professor Jay Baker has spent some 40 years asking people about their exposure to hurricanes, finding time and time again that far too many express the belief that their safety was not threatened.

Garrison's experience should put that false sense of security to rest.

The mantra this time of year should be this: Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Not the complacent belief a storm will not turn out to be a real threat, or flooding will not imperil my home.

While today marks the official start of the six-month Atlantic hurricane season, two tropical storms already came and went off the east coast, Alberto and Beryl.

The storm experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predict a fairly normal season with nine to 15 named storms, four to eight developing into hurricanes and one to three accelerating into major blasts with winds in excess of 111 mph, a Category 3.

Andrew's winds reached a ferocious 165 mph.

We hope you saved the Herald's "Hurricane Survival Guide 2012," published Sunday. The section is full of useful information about storm preparations, evacuation shelters, emergency numbers and more.

On a cautionary note, stock enough food and water for several days since storm damage and flooding could restrict mobility and store operations. Plan an evacuation route and destination. Put important insurance and personal papers within easy access.

And remember Hurricane Andrew. Plus, Steve Garrison's deep regret over his failure to protect his family.