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Seminar held to educate residents of hurricane season

By Staff | Jun 8, 2016

City of Sanibel Weather Consultant Dave Roberts. MEGHAN MCCOY

In an effort to educate the community, a hurricane seminar was held to get residents prepared for the season, which began June 1 and continues through Nov. 30.

“It is a time to have heightened awareness, but again we want you to stay aware and have updated information at all times,” Dave Roberts, City of Sanibel weather consultant said.

Sanibel Emergency Management Lt. William Dalton started the hurricane seminar at BIG ARTS Schein Hall Friday, May 27, by telling those in attendance that in past experiences they have found when they have an educated public it helps them perform their job and makes their overall hurricane response that much more successful.

Roberts said the seminar is all about “being prepared, not scared.” He said it’s about trying to get residents prepared for hurricane season, as well as letting them know what Sanibel does to prepare for hurricane season to ensure safety.

“Florida does stand out when it comes to hurricane tracks, there is no doubt about it,” Roberts said.”For the next couple of months we are not going to see much activity in June and July, typically. It’s usually August when things really ramp up and it seems in September right after Labor Day that’s when we see the biggest concentration of hurricane activity when it comes to the Atlantic, Caribbean, or the Gulf of Mexico.”

Lee County Public Safety Chief of Emergency Management Jim Bjostad. MEGHAN MCCOY

Roberts said he has noticed that the peak for hurricane activity for Sanibel and Lee County has shifted to the lateral portion of September.

His presentation also included the life of a hurricane, which is made up of warm surface air, and wind spin that becomes a tropical disturbance when reaching 39 miles per hour, or greater.

“When a hurricane makes landfall that is how it releases all of its energy,” Roberts said. “Here on Sanibel we really are not a destination for hurricanes, they usually just pass by. They are going somewhere else most likely.”

A hurricane has to have moisture, water temperatures of 80 degrees or warmer, instability, wind sheer to develop and hot air.

“We have about 12 named storms, tropical storms, or hurricanes, for all of the Atlantic, the Caribbean and Gulf. Out of those 12, seven are hurricanes. Out of those hurricanes, about three are considered major,” Roberts said about the annual average.

Sanibel Emergency Management Lt. William Dalton. MEGHAN MCCOY

NOAA’s forecast revealed that this season will resemble the near normal season.

“The last few years we haven’t had much activity. So, a near normal season after having a below normal season don’t be surprised if you see, or hear more storms this year. It doesn’t mean we are having a crazy season, it just means we are back on to where we are supposed to be,” Roberts said.

This year’s names include Alex, Bonnie, Colin, Danielle, Earl, Fiona, Gaston, Hermine, Ian, Julia, Karl, Lisa, Matthew, Nicole, Otto, Paula, Richard, Shary, Tobias, Virginie and Walter.

From the 1870s until last year, there were 54 storms – half hurricanes, half tropical storms. Every three years a storm will hit and once every decade a storm will have a direct hit, he said.

Although wind is a big factor of hurricanes, he said storm surge can be a big issue for the island.

F.I.S.H. Director of Operations and Grants Maggie Goldsmith. MEGHAN MCCOY

“There is security in planning in advance, security in planning your future in advance and keeping up to date with information and knowing when you are supposed to leave. That is the most important thing,” Roberts said.

That bit of information is important because when wind travels across the water it piles up. When the wind is consistent and a storm is sitting off shore a storm surge forms. Although Sanibel does not have a history of 20 foot storm surge, how much of a storm surge causes worry?

“If you have six inches of running water come at our feet, that is enough to knock you on your side. Six inches of running water. Don’t be concerned whether it is a foot, or three foot of storm surge, it is all deadly,” Roberts said.

He also took time to explain what his job is as the weather consultant. Roberts said he looks at the history of climate, history of storms and hurricane models.

“My job is to really get specific with the City of Sanibel and explain the risks for each storm that is threatening the area,” Roberts said.

Sanibel building official Harold Law. MEGHAN MCCOY

Jim Bjostad, Lee County Public Safety Chief of Emergency Management, began his portion of the presentation by asking the audience who was afraid of hurricanes?

“There is absolutely no reason to be afraid of hurricanes,” he said. “Hurricanes I am giving you three to five days, sometimes a seven day notice. I’m telling you three to five days out whether or not to think about evacuating.”

He said residents should not be afraid to live on the island, especially since he is a hurricane man and he chose to live on Sanibel because he has three to five days to get out of town if a hurricane comes.

With Sanibel and Captiva being apart of Zone A, the first to be evacuated, Bjostad gave the advice to “respect the wind, fear the surge. The wind will hurt you, but the surge will kill you.”

Bjostad also talked about Hurricane Charley, which impacted the area in 2004.

“Charley was a wake up call for all of us to remind folks don’t fixate on that black line. A hurricane does not follow the track line like we do to a road map,” he said, adding that the cone of certainty is what to watch. “If Sanibel is in the cone, you need to pay attention because hurricanes do shift left to right as much as 100 miles in the last couple of days.”

Bjostad encouraged everyone in attendance to have a plan where they start thinking now of what they are going to do once an evacuation is issued.

“Between you and Interstate 75 is a half a million people. You want to get to 75 before they go, ‘oh we should evacuate,'” he said. “You also want to make sure you fill your car up with gasoline next time you drive it and never let it go below a half a tank. So when it’s time to evacuate you are not sitting in line with 400 other people at the gas pump. You are on your way out of town.”

Gas in the car also provides individuals with the opportunity to have air condition, a way to charge a cell phone and access to a radio to keep up-to-date about the weather if they loose electricity.

One of the many ways to stay informed about the weather is downloading the app Code Red. Bjostad said it allows him the opportunity to give notifications about not only hurricanes, but also such disasters as tornados and fires.

His presentation also touched upon shelters that become available if an evacuation is issued. A special needs shelter, as well as a pet friendly shelter at South Fort Myers High School, are available in Lee County.

Maggie Goldsmith, F.I.S.H. director of operations and grants, encouraged the audience to think of anyone they know, a neighbor, or a friend, that need a little extra assistance. She said they would love to reach out to that person and send a volunteer out to their home with their permission to go over what their plan is and who to contact.

“If we do have to evacuate, everyone is aware of the situation and (we can) help them get to where they need to go. We cannot transport them off the island, but perhaps can connect you with someone that could help,” Goldsmith said. “Most importantly we stay in touch with the individual’s family. We will reach out to the family and let them know (they are) safe. We will stay with them throughout the entire process through phone or text. We want to make sure our neighbors are safe and have all the information they need.”

Harold Law, Sanibel building official, shared information about flood insurance. He said FEMA has standards in which homes should be built, as well as flood insurance.

“If you have a mortgage, they require flood insurance,” Law said. “It’s a good precaution even though you may not need it.”

He said an individual has to have flood insurance for their home 30 days before a hurricane hits.

Dalton finished the seminar by explaining what Sanibel does before, during and after a storm and why they plan for a hurricane – to save lives. He discussed the five most difficult places in the country to evacuate, which included Southwest Florida as the number one place.

“When we issue an evacuation, we do so with good cause,” Dalton said. “We do a door-to-door post evacuation check.”

They began doing the check because of an elderly couple that was found on the west coast of the island that were “shut ins,” having no idea the storm (Hurricane Charley) was coming.

When an evacuation is placed, the city moves its entire operation to Crowne Plaza at Bell Tower where they continue to serve 24 hours a day.

Dalton said police, fire and public works are the first to re-enter Sanibel after a hurricane were to impact the area. He said safety, protecting property and clearing roadways are their first priorities. Restoration of services follows. A command post is set up once they re-enter the island and fire personnel visit every building on the island.

The island is divided into 10 zones for re-entry. The re-entry hang tag programs assists them in identifying the zones, as well as continuing safety measures for residents.