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Experts predict ‘average’ storm season, stress being prepared

By Staff | Jul 15, 2009

According to weather experts, 2009 is shaping up to be an “average storm season,” with 10 to 11 named storms predicted, and about half of them anticipated to become hurricanes.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that it only takes one hurricane to create a disaster.

On Monday, the City of Sanibel hosted the first of two hurricane seminars of the summer at BIG Arts, drawing a crowd of about 40 residents and business owners who came to hear about storm preparations from a panel of officials who are knowledgeable about what to do before, during and after a severe weather event.

“In about 30 days, we’re all going to be talking about ‘the thing that’s out there in the Atlantic’ or ‘the thing that’s out there in the tropics,'” said Dave Roberts, the city’s official weather consultant. “Anything that may be coming this way we have to take seriously.”

Roberts noted that in order for a hurricane to form, the water temperature must be above 80 degrees. Last week, Gulf water temperatures measured at 85 degrees.

“The conditions are there for hurricanes, but it just hasn’t happened yet,” he added, noting that the three months which storms most frequently form in are September, October and August. “The good news is we’re in for an average season. 2004 was a very active hurricane season. In fact, we ran out of letters in the alphabet to name the storms. We don’t want to go through something like that again.”

Now five years removed from Hurricane Charley, Roberts recalled how that storm impacted Southwest Florida as well as the way weather experts have gone about making predictions about storms.

“Hurricane Charley was like a sporting event. Everybody around here was rooting for it to go to Tampa, and they were rooting for it to go somewhere else,” he said, noting that the technology being used today far exceeds what was available back in 2004. “We’re going through a period in history that we’re had more storm activity in the past 10 to 15 years than we saw in the previous few decades.”

Harold Law of the City of Sanibel’s building department emphasized the importance of checking your roofs for leaks and making sure you have flood insurance on your home.

“All of Sanibel is a flood zone, but we have different flood zones within Sanibel,” said Law. “As long as your flood insurance is paid and up to date, there’s not much for you to do.”

Matt Scott, assistant chief of the Sanibel Fire & Rescue District, stressed the importance of making an emergency disaster kit for your family and having an evacuation plan in place well in advance of a predicted storm strike.

“Any time we get notified that a hurricane may be coming our way, we roll into our hurricane plan,” Scott explained. “When they call for the island to evacuate, we go, so be prepared to be on your own if you plan on staying. Our top priority is protecting the public and ensuring your safety.”

Jerald Campbell, planning chief for the Lee County Emergency Operations Center, also noted that when an evacuation is called for, everybody should heed that warning.

“I like to say ‘run away’ because ‘evacuation’ sounds kinda sterile,” he said. “If you use the words ‘run away,’ that really gets the point across. You could stay, but that’s not a very good plan. You don’t want to hang around and experience a major hurricane. That’s not a lot of fun.”

Campbell urged the public to communicate with family and friends who live outside the region and determine in advance where you would go should a storm be threatening the islands.

“If you leave home with just a plan to drive inland until you find a hotel, you may wind up driving all the way to the Georgia border before you find one with rooms,” he added. “And if you decide to stay here during a storm, you’re gambling that you know more than we do. In most cases – 70 percent, 80 percent – you may be fine, but are you willing to bet your life with 2 in 10 odds?”

Before and after the presentation, attendees mingled with the meeting speakers and picked up valuable information, brochures and pamphlets related to hurricane preparations. Those were provided by the City of Sanibel, CERT, Lee County Public Safety and Emergency Management, FEMA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“I came because I was interested in making a hurricane plan for myself and my husband,” said Sanibel resident Mary McLaughlin. “My husband walked out of the meeting saying that he wants to start working on it, too.”

The next and final hurricane seminar is scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 20 from 1 to 3 p.m. at BIG Arts, located at 900 Dunlop Road. It is free and open to the public.

For additional information, visit www.mysanibel.com or call City Hall at 472-3700.