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Forecast predicts decline in storm activity

By Staff | Aug 26, 2009

During last week’s second city-sponsored hurricane seminar, people attending the program heard both good news and bad.

The good news: Hurricane forecasters have dropped the amount of named tropical storms predicted earlier this year from 12 to 10.

The bad news: It only takes one storm to bring devastation to Southwest Florida.

The seminar, staged at BIG Arts, featured local meteorologist Dave Roberts – the official weather consultant for the City of Sanibel – as well as Gerald Campbell, deputy director for the Lee County Emergency Operations Center, City Manager Judie Zimomra, Sanibel Police Maj. Michael Murray and Matt Scott, assistant chief of the Sanibel Fire Rescue District.

“We do everything we can to keep all of our citizens safe on Sanibel, but we need participation and cooperation from everyone,” Zimomra said at the start of the program. “Our number one responsibility and our number one priority is the safety of our citizens.”

While about half of the crowd indicated that they had been residents of the island five years earlier when Hurricane Charley arrived, more than one-third of them also raised their hand when asked if they still needed their 2009 Hurricane Hangtags. Those were distributed following the speaker presentations.

Zimomra noted that on Aug. 13, 2004, between 96 and 98 percent of Sanibel had evacuated in advance of Charley.

“We only call for an evacuation if it is an absolute emergency, but we have to start putting our action plan in place five days in advance,” she said. “And if we need to stop (the plan) because something changes, we can – but we can’t put a new plan into action at the last minute.”

Like all of the speakers, Zimomra stressed paying careful attention to weather forecasts throughout hurricane season and having a good evacuation plan in place.

“We’re already three named storms into the season and it looks like we’ve been really lucky so far,” said Roberts, who urged island residents to heed the warnings issued by the TV and radio meteorologists. “Don’t try to out-think the storm. It’s a hurricane… you’re on an island… get off the island!”

In April, Dr. Phil Klotzbach and Dr. Bill Gray of Colorado State University, considered by their peers the leading hurricane authorities, predicted 12 named storms in 2009. Of that total, six were predicted to become hurricanes, with two of those developing into major hurricanes.

Recently, Roberts explained, Klotzbach and Gray reduced their pre-season forecast down to 10 named storms. However, they still anticipate the same number of hurricanes – as well as major hurricanes – this year.

“I’m not here to scare you. I’m here to let you know what might happen and to tell you to prepare yourselves,” he said. “In two weeks, we’re going to be at the height of hurricane season – the middle of September traditionally is the most active period – but hurricanes can happen at any time.”

Also during the seminar, a YouTube video prepared by Billy Kirkland reflecting upon the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Charley was played for the crowd. It featured several local residents sharing their experiences along with images of the storm’s aftermath.

Campbell told the audience to prepare themselves with an evacuation kit packed with food, water and clothing. He also advised that before they head off-island, if necessary, they should have a full tank of gas and a destination in mind.

“If you don’t have anywhere to go, you’d better buy a map with other states on it because you might not find an empty hotel room until you get to Georgia,” Campbell said.

In addition, he explained that after talking with people who remained in an evacuation zone despite the warnings against doing so, they have all responded with a similar tale: “To a person, they’ve all told me ‘I thought I was going to die,’ ‘It was the worse thing I ever went through’ and ‘I’ll never do that again!'”