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Hurricane season set to commence

By Staff | May 29, 2010

With hurricane season to kick off Tuesday and the most recent forecast predicting an active season, local officials are urging residents to prepare ahead of time.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service, released the first of two seasonal outlooks on Thursday. Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the National Hurricane Center, said the second outlook will be released in early August.
“It’s expected to be an active to extremely active hurricane season,” he said of the initial forecast for the Atlantic Basin.
For the season, which runs from June 1-Dec. 1, the NOAA projects a 70 percent probability of 14 to 23 named storms with top winds of 39 mph or higher. Of those named storms, eight to 14 are anticipated to be hurricanes with top winds of 74 mph or higher. Of those, three to seven could be major — a Category 3, 4 or 5 hurricane — with winds of at least 111 mph.
According to Feltgen, an average season is typically defined by 11 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes.
“Even the low end of the ranges is an above average season,” he said.
City and county emergency management officials are stressing the importance of preparing now before a hurricane appears on the map. Residents should have a hurricane kit and evacuation plan, have their insurance up to date and have as least one vehicle in working shape.
Pet owners should have a hurricane kit for each animal including food, water and any medications. A pet carrier is important if an evacuation is called for.
“Make a plan,” said Gerald Campbell, chief of planning for Lee County Emergency Management. “Know what they need to do to make themselves safer.”
“The bottom line is it’s time to make a plan,” he said.
One thing is, with today’s economy, residents might find it more difficult to prepare properly as compared to previous years. Campbell said residents can save some money by building their own hurricane kit, rather than buying a kit that is sold pre-packaged at stores. By not waiting until the last minute, they can also save by buying a few items at a time when extra money is available.
“Buy a little bit of extra food when you’ve got the opportunity,” Campbell said. “We understand that preparation is difficult, so we urge people to start early.”
“If you think it’s really hard to prepare, image how much more difficult it would be to recover if you weren’t prepared to begin with,” he added. “Start early. It gives you a chance to fine tune.”
Cape Coral Fire Chief Bill Van Helden said one of his concerns is how ready the city, state and residents are for hurricane season. Those who were able to leave before a storm hit in prior years may not be financially able to do so and those who are staying may not have the money to prepare themselves.
“It’s going to be so important this year to be more prepared than ever,” he said. “This year, more than ever, make sure yourself and friends and family members are prepared. If in doubt, take a few minutes to lend a hand at the beginning of this hurricane season.”
For example, Van Helden explained, if you know someone living in a low-lying area who could be told to evacuate and your home is “high and dry,” make it a point to let that person know they can stay with you if they have to leave.
“There’s enough shelters for all those in a storm surge area,” he said.
Van Helden noted that one positive is most, if not all, of the big chain stores in the city have emergency generator power meaning recovery will be easier.
“One of the key issues for us in recovering from a storm is when the residents can get their basic needs met,” he said.
City departments recently met to update their organizational structure. Though there is a statewide mutual aid program for law enforcement and fire to help out affected communities after a storm, the level of city and others resources is not what it once was due to the economic downturn.
“The number of governmental resources available in 2004 and 2005 have diminished substantially across the state. It’s not just Cape Coral,” Van Helden said. “Everything from emergency services to building inspectors.”
“All these people play an incredible support role during the recovery,” he continued. “We may not have as timely a response as we have in the past, but we’ll get the job done. We’re still a community that will come together and take case of itself. That has not changed, nor will it.”
Campbell said the county began its process of preparing back in January.
“We’ve been working on this for a while now,” he said. “We plan like we do every year. We believe hurricanes are a fact of life in Southwest Florida, so we follow our own advice. We reviewed plans and checked our equipment to make sure its prepared and ready to go.”
“All those things we tell other folks to do, we’re doing for ourselves,” Campbell said.
As for updates on a storm, officials are always updating the Lee County Emergency Management website at: leeeoc.com. Resident can sign up for a text message service and receive a text alert when news is updated on the website. The service is free, but people should check with their provider.
Lee County will also maintain a Twitter account at: twitter.com/leeeoc.
Cape residents also can sign up for an emergency notification tool, called CodeRED, at: capecoral.net . It plays a 30-second to 60-second message.
Residents must make sure their information is accurate, and need to say whether they want to gets messages on a cell phone or a home telephone.
For example, Van Helden explained, when Hurricane Charley made its sharp turn right in August 2004 that would have been an excellent opportunity to notify residents staying in low-lying areas of the potential for storm surge.
“But it’s not 100 percent guaranteed,” he said. “The best tools out there for getting information is still the local media.”
Some of the factors contributing to the active seasonal outlook include upper atmospheric winds that are favorable for the development of storms, the lack of El Nino and wind shears to pull storms apart and the higher than average sea surface temperatures that feed storms, Feltgen explained.
“That’s what happened last year,” he said, referring to El Nino. “So we had a below average season.”
The “record warm” surface temperatures are up to 4 degrees Fahrenheit above the average surface temperatures.
“They are above average right now where the storms develop and they’re expected to remain above average during the season,” Feltgen said. “It’s the warm waters that really fuel the storms.”
Plus, the “multi-decadel signal” has helped synched favorable oceanic and atmospheric conditions, leading to more active hurricane seasons. Eight of the last 15 seasons rank in the top 10 for the most named storms with 2005 coming in first place with 28.
“We remain in an active hurricane period, which began back in 1995,” Feltgen said. “Periods can last 20 or 30 years. We had one in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s.”
The important thing is for residents to prepare ahead of time.
“We don’t want anyone basing their hurricane planning on a forecast. The seasonal outlook does not tell you when or where they’re going to form or if they’re going to make landfall,” he said. “Coastal residents should go into each hurricane season ready for the season.”
Campbell agreed.
“The bottom line is it really doesn’t mean a lot of and in itself,” he said. “Hurricanes are a fact of life, and while this indicates a busier -than-average season, we don’t react to the forecasts.”
“The forecast numbers are a great awareness tool,” Campbell said.
For a list of what items should be included in a hurricane kit, visit the city’s website online at: capecoral.net or visit the county’s website at: leeeoc.com .
Hurricane seminars can offer residents a better insight into the season, as well as what they must do to protect themselves and their home. For details on the seminars, contact the Cape Emergency Operations Center at 573-3022.
In past years, the Florida Legislature has passed a hurricane tax free holiday to help residents stock up on hurricane supplies without having to pay sales tax. Lawmakers did not pass the holiday this year, according to Sterling Ivey, press secretary for The Governor’s Office.