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Hurricane season set to begin

By Staff | May 30, 2009

With the upcoming Atlantic Hurricane season predicted to be about average, emergency officials want to make sure residents’ preparations for the upcoming season are anything but.
The reason: It only takes one storm to cause a disaster.
It’s a lesson Southwest Floridians have learned through experience, and one Expert Senior Meteorologist for Accuweather.com, Dan Kottlowski, wants people to remember in the face of complacency.
“The government, Hurricane Center and National Weather Service all agree people should have a hurricane plan, because all it takes is one,” Kottlowski said.
Kottlowski recalled the 2004 season, with hurricanes Charley and Francis, as unusually active.
“Florida was like ground zero during that year,” he said. “That was an unusual year, but being hit by one (tropical cyclone) is not unusual.”
Kottlowski said meteorologists at Accuweather.com are predicting 10 storms to come out of the Atlantic Basin this season. Seven could be hurricanes, One or two could be a category 3 or higher, or “major hurricanes.”
That’s slightly lower than the National Weather Service’s predictions, which forecast nine to 14 named storms, four to seven of which are hurricanes and one to three of which are major hurricanes–and most predictions are lower than those of recent years–but on average Florida is hit by at least one storm per season, Kottlowski said.
For that reason, he suggests residents be prepared during and after storms. Meanwhile meteorologists will be doing their part by getting information out as quickly and accurately as possible.
“Since our population has grown so much in Florida it takes people a long time to evacuate,” Kottlowski said. “When an evacuation warning is issued and they want you to evacuate, I would take heed. There’s a constant flow of people every year coming down into Florida, and many of them have never experienced a hurricane before.”
Part of what what can slow a hurricane season in its tracks is the development of an El Nino weather event, Kottlowski said. Upper-level winds are pushed further south by an El Nino, creating stronger westerly winds. Sheer from the winds hinders tropical systems from developing.
“A lot of information right now is suggesting that we will see an El Nino developing sometime this fall,” he said.
That means that if an El Nino forms later in the hurricane season, we could see the number of tropical systems taper off around that time period.
Right now, Kottlowski said, the weather patterns are neutral, meaning there is neither an El Nino nor La Nina system affecting the development of Atlantic storms.
Other factors that affect the development of tropical cyclones are water temperature and surface pressure.
Technology and methods of storm prediction have grown significantly more accurate in recent years, Kottlowski said.
“The computer models that we use nowadays to help us understand the formation of tropical systems and how they’re moving has improved dramatically because of those breakthroughs in understanding how tropical systems work,” he said.
Kottlowski said meteorologists have become increasingly proficient in tracking the direction of storms, but research is being done to better their ability to predict changes in strength.
Since a hurricane’s sudden changes in strength are currently difficult to predict, he suggests not ignoring a storm based on its intensity prior to landfall.
He cited hurricanes Charley, Katrina, Rita and Wilma as storms that quickly and unpredictably changed intensity and all of which at some point became category 5 storms.
“Nobody expected them to intensify as quickly as they did,” he said. “It just opened people’s eyes.”
Accuweather.com updates weather information around the clock, and includes information provided from other sources such as the government.
Complacency isn’t something that is just a fear of meteorologists. That’s why agencies such as the American Red Cross are doing everything they can to get the word out that people should be conscientious about hurricanes.
“I think the farther we get away from Hurricane Charley, the more complacency is something we have to deal with at the Red Cross,” said Colin Downey, a spokesperson for the Lee County American Red Cross.
The Red Cross has outlined a three-step plan they say everyone should follow in regards to hurricane safety: “Get a (hurricane) kit, make a plan, be informed.”
The Red Cross suggests putting together an emergency supply kit, including three days of water; non-perishable foods such as tuna fish, peanut butter, crackers and juice boxes; a manual can opener; a battery powered radio, flashlight and batteries; a first aid kit; prescription and non-prescription medications; and important documents.
You should prepare a personal disaster and evacuation plan, identifying a meeting place in the home and one outside your area, make plans for pets and select an out-of-area emergency contact person, the Red Cross says.
If a hurricane watch is issued, the Red Cross suggests listening to radio weather updates, bringing in outdoor objects and anchor objects that cannot go inside. They also say you should close windows and doors, cover windows with storm shutters or plywood, elevate furniture if you’re in a surge zone, fill your gas tanks and check the expiration dates of your supplies.
If a hurricane warning is issued, they suggest listening to the advice of local officials, including evacuation advice; securing the home by unplugging appliances, turning off the electricity and main water valve; not using candles and kerosene lamps for light; and to turn off appliances to reduce damage from power surge. The Red Cross also warns you should stay in the home, away from windows and other glass paneling if you are not in an evacuation zone.
In the event residents aren’t able to evacuate, the Red Cross provides shelter and food, and assists as a first-responder in emergency disaster aid.
“Whether it’s a single family fire or a large disaster like a hurricane, the Red Cross is going to be there to help whether we go to you or you go to us,” Downey said. “We’re going to be there when they need us, but in the mean time we really do rely on citizens to take these simple measures of preparedness.”
Red Cross shelters will provide a roof, safety and food, but Downey suggests that in the event you have to go to a shelter, you bring some simple things like medications, pillows, blankets and other items for comfort.
“Those simple comfort items are really going to help make a bad time that much better,” he said.
More information on hurricane preparedness, including a video guide, is available at www.arclcc.org/programs/prepare4emergencies.htm.
You can reach the Lee County American Red Cross at 278-3401.
Also, Hurricane Preparedness Guides for the 2009 season are available at the Cape Coral Daily Breeze, located at 2510 Del Prado Boulevard, or on line at cape-coral-daily-breeze.com
The city also has on on-line video at capecoral.net