Projections released last week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center predict a near-normal hurricane season.
NOAA forecasters predict a 40% chance of a near-normal season; a 30% chance of an above-normal; and, a 30% chance of below-normal season.
The forecasters, who are with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, expect 12 to 17 named storms, with wind speeds of 39 mph or higher. Of those, five to nine could become hurricanes, with wind speeds of 74 mph or higher, and one to four of those could become Category 3, Category 4 or Category 5 storms, with wind speeds exceeding 111 mph.
Colorado State University (CSU) researchers released their initial hurricane season predictions in April — putting the 2023 Atlantic basin hurricane season as having slightly below-average activity.
The CSU weather researchers forecast 13 named storms, of which they expect six to become hurricanes and of those, two to become major hurricanes.
Regardless of the amount of activity there is, Floridians know that hurricanes can be destructive, deadly — and unpredictable.
Last year, Hurricane Ian appeared to be headed straight at the Tampa Bay region — prompting elected officials and government leaders to take a series of actions to reduce potential death and destruction.
But instead of slamming into the Tampa Bay area, Hurricane Ian veered south. It flattened downtown Fort Myers, cut off Sanibel Island from the mainland, caused billions of dollars in damage and resulted in at least 149 deaths, according to published reports.
Ian made landfall on Cayo Costa Island at 3:05 p.m., on Sept. 28. Its estimated wind speed topped 150 mph.
Along its path of destruction, boats stacked up in marinas; cars and trucks floated down roads; high winds tore through mobile home parks, floodwaters filled buildings and trees toppled.
Cellphone videos and television news footage revealed the fury of Ian’s wrath.
Hurricane Ian also took a toll on its survivors’ mental health, said Andy Fossa, Pasco County’s emergency management director.
He spent weeks in Lee County providing assistance in Ian’s aftermath and he remembers counselors coming to shelters to help people cope because they ““got stuck … in a doom and gloom mentality,” Fossa said.
While there’s no way to know when, if or where a hurricane will strike — being prepared for the possibility is always a good idea, Fossa said.
And, there’s no time like the present, since a new hurricane season begins on June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.
Get organized now, to avoid chaos later
This year, Pasco is beginning its messaging about the need for preparations earlier than it did in the past, Fossa said.
“We have to grab the citizens’ attention. They are complacent. You’d think (Hurricane) Ian would have opened the eyes of the citizens — ‘When we say evacuate, we mean evacuate,’” Fossa said.
Despite those warnings, though, some people refuse to leave.
Fossa urges residents — whether new to Florida or not — to educate themselves on their potential risk, develop a plan for whether they’ll evacuate or stay, and begin making preparations around their home or business to reduce potential damage.
There are steps you can take right now, to better position yourself in case severe weather threatens, he said.
For instance, If you have a generator, check to see that it’s functioning properly.
Inspect your windows and roof to be sure they’re in good shape.
Begin stocking up on basic necessities, such as water, food, snacks and personal hygiene items, too.
Take photographs of your residence or business now and of the items inside. The photos could come in handy, if you need to file an insurance claim.
Make a plan now for evacuating, or sheltering in place.
When a storm is approaching, be sure your yard is cleared of lawn furniture, garden décor and other objects that could act like projectiles during high winds.
Be sure your hurricane plan takes into account all of the members of your household, including pets.
If you live in an evacuation zone, know which route you’ll take. Have a plan for where you’ll go and be sure to let a loved one know where you plan to be.
If you live in an evacuation zone, leave when officials say you should leave.
Help can’t be sent in, during the middle of the storm, Foss said.
“When the wind hits 39 mph, all emergency functions cease,” he said. The sheriff’s office gets off the road, as do fire/rescue crews.
“So, you’re pretty much stuck until the back half of the storm comes through,” Fossa said.
When evacuating, the emergency management expert recommends you travel 10s of miles away, not 100s of miles.
He suggests you stay with a family member or friend, or at a hotel. Public shelters should be viewed as a shelter of last resort. Those staying there are allotted a small space, a cot, a pillow and a blanket, he said.
“If you can get with family or friends, we prefer you do that. You’re more comfortable. You’re in a sociable setting,” Fossa added.
Pasco has shelters designated for people who have special medical needs and has some pet-friendly shelters, too.
If you are riding out the storm at home, Fossa has these suggestions.
“Stay inside. Don’t go near exterior windows. Try to stay within four walls.
“Don’t be fooled when the eye of the storm passes over. People think it’s safe to go outside and venture around. They’ve got to remember the back half of the storm is still coming. Do not go outside.”
After the storm, don’t venture out to sightsee.
Do not wade through water, it can be contaminated or there could be snakes or alligators.
Don’t drive in areas where you can’t see the bottom of the road — you could end up in a canal, or your vehicle could begin floating.
Steer clear of downed power lines, they may still be electrically charged.
If you’re using a generator, be sure that it is well-ventilated, to avoid the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning.
Don’t use charcoal grills in an enclosed space, either. The fumes can become lethal.
If you need repairs, be careful who you hire, Fossa said.
Get two or three estimates, to avoid price gouging. Also, be sure to hire contractors who are licensed to work in your county.
Before, during and after the storm, it’s a good idea to stay tuned into local news, check county websites and social media sites for updated information, Fossa said.
When citizens do that instead of calling into the emergency operations center, the personnel in that center can focus more of their efforts on coordinating the response to community needs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Red Cross and other organizations, Fossa said.
Published May 31, 2023