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Busy Hurricane season predicted

By Staff | Jun 6, 2013

Experts are predicting a busy Atlantic hurricane season for 2013, which kicked off on June 1.

Most who were here can remember the turmoil and upset caused by Hurricane Charley in 2004. There have not been any direct hits, like Charley, since even though Sanibel and Captiva always seem to experience beach erosion and some flooding when even a lesser tropical storm blows by. Just last year, two tropical storms left their mark on the beaches and passes, which are being dredged and renourished.

One only needs to drive along Periwinkle Way these days – minus the tree canopy overhead – to be reminded of what storms can inflict on a community.

Forecasters in April released their prediction for an above-average hurricane season with 18 tropical storms, nine of them of hurricane strength with four possibly major storms (Category 3 or higher). Records dating back to 1950 indicate a typical season has 12 tropical storms, seven becoming hurricanes with winds of at least 74 mph.

Re-entry passes are required to return to the islands in the event that a evacuation has been issued. These passes, rearview mirror hangtags, are available for Sanibel and Captiva residents and businesses at the Sanibel Police Department at no charge. However, to save money, anyone that still has a hangtag from last year does not need to apply for a new one for 2013, according to Sanibel Police Chief Bill Tomlinson.

Hurricane kits containing necessary items such as batteries, flashlights, radios, medical supplies, fresh water and food to last several days in the event of a power outage are highly recommended for every household whether there is an evacuation order or not. It doesn’t take a named storm to knock out power for an extended period.

Just recently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center released its Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook for 2013, which runs through November. Forecasters are expecting an active or extremely active season for the Atlantic basin for the year.

“They look at the signals that are becoming obvious in April and May that may give some clues as to how the season will shape up,” said Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center.

Experts now are anticipating 13 to 20 named storms with seven to 11 predicted to become hurricanes, with from three to six becoming major hurricanes.

“So, all of those ranges there are all above the normals,” he said.

Forecasters are attributing the active season prediction to three key points.

“We’re still in that active hurricane cycle,” Feltgen said.

In place since 1995, the cycle involves strong West African monsoons.

“These are the seedlings for some of the big hurricanes that we see,” he said. “These are big, sloppy rain disturbances that roll off the coast of Africa.”

These cycles have been known to last for 20, 30 or even 40 years.

“So, we’re nowhere near done,” Feltgen said.

Warmer than average water temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea also play a part, along with the lack of El Nino and the increase in wind sheer that comes with it.

“That would suppress the formation of hurricanes,” he said.

“It all points to an active hurricane season once again,” Feltgen added.

During 2012, 19 named storms formed, including Debbie, Isaac and Sandy. Forecasters originally predicted a near average season last May, later updating the outlook in August for an active season.

“They thought El Nino was going to form,” he said, adding that it did not happen.

This year’s forecast also will be updated in early August.

Feltgen emphasized that the outlook is not a hurricane landfall forecast.

“That kind of long-range science does not exist,” he said. “This should never be used as a guide to determine if you need to prepare or not – you’ve got to be prepared.”

For seven years now, Florida and the United States have both been spared from sustaining a direct hit from a major hurricane. Hurricane Wilma was the last one recorded both statewide and nationwide.

Hurricanes Isaac, Ike and Sandy were hurricanes, all weaker than a Category 3 storm.

A below average season was predicted in 1992 – the year Hurricane Andrew swept though.

“And we’ve had active seasons where none made landfall in the U.S.,” Feltgen said.

In preparing for hurricane season, he suggested that residents first determine if they are residing in an evacuation zone. If so, they should have a plan for where they will go if they are told to evacuate.

For residents not located in an evacuation zone, make sure the home is up to code and that it can withstand hurricane-force winds. If it cannot, they will have to find a safer place to take shelter.

Gather the materials needed to secure a home before the formation of a storm.

“Odds are they’re going to run out,” Feltgen said of last minute shopping to stock up.

He suggested making arrangements for pets and checking one’s homeowner’s insurance ahead of time, as well. Have enough non-perishable food, water and medications for at least seven days per person.

ATMs are useless if the power goes out, so have cash. Battery backups for cell phones are a plus.

“Cell phones work great, if you keep them charged,” Feltgen said.

If an evacuation is ordered, it is prudent to have a family plan to stay with friends or relatives, book a hotel room out of the path of a storm, or as a last resort in designated public shelters.

In Lee County, those with special medical or physical requirements can apply in advance for space in a special care shelter. Special needs applications can be found online at www.leeeoc.com or by calling (239) 533-3640.

For more information, call (239) 472-3700 or visit the city website: mysanibel.com

Reporter Tiffany Repecki contributed to this report.