Activity in Hurricane Season 2022 is expected to be above-average, said Andrew Fossa, director of emergency management for Pasco County.
“Based on the forecasts, and talking to the local meteorologist and the state meteorologist, it’s going to be an above-active season, and they’re also predicting that with this above-active season that the storms are going to be more intense.”
“This year spun up a little, I’ll say it like this, ‘a little wonky,’” Fossa said, referring to severe thunderstorms “at a time of a year that we never get severe weather.”
Typically, that type of weather doesn’t start here until sometime near the end of June through mid-July, he said.
The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s outlook for the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season predicts a 65% chance of an above-normal season, a 25% chance of a near-normal season and a 10% chance of a below-normal season.
NOAA is forecasting a likely range of 14 to 21 named storms in the 2022 season, with winds of 39 mph or higher. Of those, six to 10 could become hurricanes, with winds of 74 mph or higher. Three to six of those could be become major hurricanes, in categories three, four or five, with winds of 111 mph or higher. NOAA provides these ranges with a 70% confidence, the website says.
The Colorado State University Tropical Meteorology Project team is predicting 20 named storms in 2022. Of those, researchers expect 10 to become hurricanes and five to reach major hurricane strength.
Hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30.
One of the big changes in Pasco County this year is the opening of a new hurricane evacuation route.
County leaders have been pushing for decades to extend Ridge Road from Moon Lake Road in New Port Richey eventually over to U.S. 41 in Land O’ Lakes.
The extension has been completed to the Suncoast Parkway and is expected to reach U.S. 41 in 2025.
The opening of the four-lane road provides a new route to help move people away from the county’s coastal areas.
If evacuations become necessary, the county will use all four lanes of Ridge Road, to help motorists travel to the east. Since the road is under the county’s jurisdiction, it will be in charge of its directional flow.
On another matter, the county plans to return to its pre-COVID-19 setup for hurricane shelters.
For the past two years, the county’s shelter capacity had been significantly reduced because of space required for social distancing due to potential risks during the pandemic, the emergency management director said.
“This year, we pretty much went back to a normal status,” Fossa said, with the same square footage allotted per family, as it had provided before COVID’s threat.
“One of the biggest things we kept in place are the masks, even though they’re not mandated. They still will be recommended for people who have health issues, or (who) just feel safer wearing the mask in a building that’s going to be full of people,” Fossa said.
If pandemic concerns resurface, the county will adapt, he said.
The emergency management expert also noted that Pasco is in a better position now to respond to rescue people trapped by high water.
During Irma, in 2017, the Anclote River, in Elfers, flooded.
“We had no available equipment to put in that area, to get people out of their mobile homes that were stranded. So, we were dependent on Hillsborough County’s swift water rescue team to come out and try mitigate those waters to get people out. It’s a very fast current,” Fossa said.
Now, Pasco County Fire Rescue has a swift water team and a technical rescue team.
So the county can depend on its own team, instead of needing to reach out to other municipalities and counties, he said.
The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office also has a boat and high vehicle units that can help with disaster response, Fossa said.
The county also has pumps it can use to address flooding situations and has contracts to secure additional equipment, when needed, Fossa said.
Don’t underestimate potential hazards
One challenge that can hinder effective emergency response is a tendency by some to disregard potential dangers, Fossa said.
“Floridians are very complacent when watches and warnings go up. They have that mindset, ‘It’s not going to happen to us,’” Fossa said.
He’s concerned that nonchalant attitude is spreading to new residents.
“They’re not used to seeing a tropical storm or a hurricane,” he said, noting many are more accustomed to dealing with winter storms.
“They really don’t heed the warning, and they actually wait until the last second to try to get a plan together and try to evacuate. Eighty-five percent of the time that is not going to work out,” Fossa said.
If you are planning to evacuate, Fossa recommends you plan on staying “tens of miles away” not “hundreds of miles away.”
Going long distances contributes to congestion, slowing evacuation for everyone, Fossa said.
Also, before returning home, find out what the conditions are where you live, he suggested.
“People like to rush right back to their houses. A lot of times disaster crews are out there trying to do cleanup. You don’t know if you have power to your house.”
Watch news reports and check local alerts — don’t complicate matters by going home too soon, Fossa advised.
Published June 29, 2022
Revised on July 5, 2022