Rainy season readies; officials urge caution
By TIFFANY REPECKI
As the rainy season begins to roll in, weather experts are reminding people of the dangers of flooding and lightning from heavy rain and thunderstorms.
The season kicks off in the middle or end of June and runs through the middle or end of October, according to John McMichael, a meteorologist with the Tampa Bay office of the National Weather Service. During season, the moisture level gets high enough where afternoon showers are common.
“We are starting to get under way,” he said.
Along with the wet weather comes some danger. Localized flooding of low-lying and poor drainage areas is one problem. Motorists should be careful of water on the roads and avoid speeding to try and prevent their vehicle from hydroplaning.
“They’d want to slow down if they’re encountering that,” McMichael said.
“You can easily lose control of your vehicle,” he added.
Weather experts also warn against trying to drive through large areas of standing water. Motorists are urged to “Turn Around, Don’t Drown.” If the depth of the water is too deep, vehicles could stall or become submerged.
“If you see standing water on a roadway, turn around and go another route,” he said.
During prolonged periods of heavy rain, rivers can rise higher and present another problem. Those who live near a river should watch for rapidly rising water levels over a short period of time. River banks could overflow and inundate nearby residences.
“There would be flooding of homes along the river if they get enough rain,” McMichael said. “Be alert during the rainy season if you live on a river.”
Parents should be wary of the combination of sewer drains, heavy rain and ongoing localized flooding. There is the danger that young children could get swept into the drain with the water, so parents should always be cautious.
“The flow of water is extremely powerful,” McMichael said. “It can move things very quickly.”
During the rainy season, lightning presents another danger.
In Florida, 70 people were struck and killed by lightning from 2000-09.
According to statistics from the National Weather Service, 65 people died from flooding per year on average from 2000 to 2009. On average, 117 died from hurricanes annually during the same 10 years, and 42 people died from lightning. The U.S., Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Island are represented.
“As soon as you see the flash of lightning or hear thunder, move indoors,” McMichael said. “If you hear thunder at any point in time, you are in danger of being struck by lightning. The storm is usually close enough to you that you are in danger.”
If shelter is sought inside a building, do not use a telephone or hand-held electrical devices, such as a hair blow dryer, and do not take a shower or bath until the thunderstorm has passed.
“Electricity can travel though pipes,” he said.
Those inside a vehicle when a storm hits should stay put.
“As long as you’re staying in there and not touching anything metal on the car, you should be OK,” McMichael said.
If stuck outside when the sky rumbles, do not take shelter under a tree.
“Lightning is going to strike the highest object,” he said.
When shelter cannot be found, people are instructed to crouch down on their knees, put their head down and stay low. Do not lie flat because lightning has been known to strike a tree and travel through the roots and up through the ground. Also avoid metal fences and other objects that can attract lightning.
Golfers and swimmers should get inside when thunder is heard, he added.
“You just want to use some common sense,” McMichael said. “You should get indoors immediately when you observe lighting or hear the thunder.”
According to the National Weather Service, one-third of lightning-related injuries occur at work, and another one-third occur during recreational or sporting activities. The last occur in diverse situations, like inside a home.
Cape Coral officials post updates on road conditions, such as flooding, standing water and down power lines, on the city’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. To receive updates on a cell phone, sign up to receive SMS text messages on Twitter. This could help if someone is already on the road.
“Maybe you should avoid an area that you might normally travel,” Connie Barron, a spokeswoman for the city, said.
Those familiar with Twitter and Facebook are encouraged to sign up. The sites are connected, so anything posted to one posts to the other as well. For links to the two websites, visit the city’s site at: www.capecoral.net .
“They’re not going to get inundated with notices, except maybe during a storm,” Barron said. “We’re pretty judicious about the use of the Twitter account and Facebook page.”
During more serious storms, like hurricanes, residents can sign up for Code RED at: capecoral.net. Code RED is an emergency notification tool that plays a 30-second to 60-second message. Residents need to indicate whether they want to receive messages on a cell phone or home telephone, and must make sure to provide their accurate contact information when signing up.
Also check the city’s website for any updates during a major storm.
“We’ve only used Code RED a handful of times, and we’ve had it for a few years now,” Barron said.
Lee County also maintains a Twitter account at: www.twitter.com/leeeoc. For updates on major storms, check the Lee County Emergency Management website at: www.leeeoc.com. People can sign up for text message alerts on updates. The service is free, but citizens should check with their provider.