Tropical Storm Elsa was headed toward the Tampa Bay region this week, and it was too early to know what the impacts would be — as The Laker/Lutz News went to print.
Regardless of Elsa’s impact, experts are predicting an above-normal Hurricane Season 2021.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center has predicted a 60% chance of an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season, a 30% chance of a near-normal season and a 10% chance of a below-normal season.
NOAA is forecasting a range of 13 to 19 named storms, with winds of 39 mph or higher. Of those, six to 10 could become hurricanes, with winds of 74 mph or higher, including three to six hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5), with winds of 111 mph or more, according to the predictions.
An average hurricane season – which runs from June 1 through Nov. 30 — produces 14 named storms, of which seven become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes, according to NOAA’s updated statistics.
The last hurricane to hit Pasco County was Hurricane Irma, in 2017. County officials have estimated that more than 200 homes were damaged, with 56 homes suffering major damage and four homes destroyed, according to the 2021 Pasco County Disaster Preparedness Guide.
Of the 261,000 addresses in Pasco County, approximately 217,000 addresses reportedly were without power, the guide adds.
As this issue of The Laker/Lutz News was going to print, experts were keeping an eye on Tropical Storm Elsa that was brewing, but it was too early to tell whether the storm would affect the Tampa Bay region.
Of course, it’s impossible to predict when or where a hurricane or tropical storm will strike, so that’s why emergency management officials urge residents to be ready to take whatever actions are necessary.
Laura Wilcoxen, interim director for emergency management for Pasco County, said residents need to prepare now, so they can be ready if a threat arises.
It’s important to keep in mind there are just a couple of thousand first responders, Wilcoxen said, compared to more than 550,000 Pasco County residents.
“So, personal responsibility is extremely important for us all to be able to recover as quickly as we can,” she said.
First, know your hazards, she said. “Are you in an evacuation zone? Are you in a flood zone?
“You know best where you live. You know best the route that you routinely travel,” Wilcoxen said.
Perhaps you’re new to the area.
In that case, Wilcoxen suggests: “Talk to your neighbors. Ask them what their experience has been in past storms.”
Perhaps you haven’t geared up yet for this storm season.
Wilcoxen offers this advice: “Prepare a simple go-kit: Quick things that you can grab, in a backpack. Water, some food, your medications, batteries, a flashlight.”
Prepare a larger home kit, too.
That kit should include 1 gallon of water per person, per day, for up to 7 days; nonperishable food, a non-electric can opener, hygiene items, and so on.
Those preparing disaster kits also should keep in mind the need to pack personal protection equipment, such as masks and gloves, in case they are needed, she said.
As you make preparations, consider any special needs of elderly or disabled people, infants and pets, she said.
Also, if you will need a special shelter, be sure to know where they are and how to register.
“Each storm is different. Some of the worst damage that this county has experienced has been because of a tropical storm,” Wilcoxen said.
Residents need to know their evacuation zone.
“Heed the warnings. There can be a lot of complacency based on previous experience,” Wilcoxen said.
“If county officials are giving you a warning that it’s time to evacuate, it’s because there’s a high potential for threats to life and safety,” the emergency response expert said.
Areas of special concern include coastal areas that are subject to storm surge and buildings that would be susceptible to wind damage, such as mobile homes or homes that are not secured to their foundation, she said.
There are public shelters available, but they should be the option of last resort, Wilcoxen said.
It’s better for people to find friends or family, or stay in a hotel, Wilcoxen said.
“You are going to be much more comfortable than you would be at a shelter,” she added. “Shelters are really like the lifeboat —they’re the lifeboat, not the cruise ship.”
County shelters will follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Florida Department of Health, Wilcoxen said.
There will be isolation areas, if needed, because of COVID-19, she added.
Protect your property, and yourself
“Know what your insurance covers,” Wilcoxen said.
If you need flood insurance, get it now.
New flood insurance policies cannot be obtained, if a storm is approaching.
It’s also a good idea to take action now, such as trimming your trees, to reduce potential property damage, she said.
When a storm is approaching, store items — such as patio furniture, grills and planters — in a garage or in another secure place. Those could become projectiles during high winds.
If you have emergency equipment, be sure you know how it works. That’s particularly true about generators, Wilcoxen said.
“Make sure they’re (generators) properly installed. You don’t want to put them inside your garage. Don’t put them next to your bedroom window. Make sure the way it is wired in, is correct,” Wilcoxen said. “You don’t want to have a disaster, within a disaster.”
Be sure you have a communication plan.
Whether you are evacuating or sheltering in place, be sure to share the specifics with someone who is outside of the danger zone.
Wilcoxen encourages residents to register for the AlertPasco app, which provides timely reports.
The county also has the social media NextDoor app, which can push out more information, easily, she said.
Wilcoxen also recommends that residents read the county’s disaster guide.
“It’s been updated and designed to make it user-friendly,” Wilcoxen said.
The county’s preparedness videos, on the emergency management page of the county’s website, are helpful, too, she said.
“If you have people who are interested in learning about how to properly fill a sandbag and stack them, we have a video about sandbags. If you want to learn more about what to take to a shelter, we have a video on our shelters. We also have one on how to build a kit.
“They’re just great, useful, educational tools,” Wilcoxen said.
“If you have any questions ever, make sure you’re reaching out and asking. Our team is here to help,” Wilcoxen said.
Preparing for a disaster
Would your organization or association like to know more about preparing for a disaster? Pasco County’s emergency management department has speakers available to provide presentations. To find out more, call 727-847-8137.
Written for July 07, 2021 publications
Revised July 05, 2021