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Preparation urged with arrival of storm season

By Staff | May 26, 2020

With early predictions pointing to above-average activity for the upcoming hurricane season, officials are encouraging the islands to be prepared and have a plan in place – as it only takes one storm.

Hurricane season is recognized as June 1 through Nov. 30.

Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Project, which has been predicting the season’s Atlantic basin hurricane activity for over 35 years, is forecasting 16 named storms for 2020, with eight of those reaching hurricane-level strength. According to the April 2 predication – three more will be released from June to August – four of the storms are anticipated to become “major” hurricanes.

A major hurricane is ranked as a Category 3 storm or higher.

“We anticipate that the 2020 Atlantic basin hurricane season will have above-normal activity,” the forecast states. “We anticipate an above-average probability for major hurricanes making landfall along the continental United States coastline and in the Caribbean.”

Officials noted that it only takes one storm, so preparation is recommended.

“It’s very important to prepare and prepare early,” Sanibel Police Chief William Dalton said. “When a storm is bearing down on you, that’s no time to make a plan.”

Sanibel Fire and Rescue District Division Chief of Training Tim Barrett echoed that.

“The time to prepare is now,” he said. “Waiting until the last minute is probably the biggest mistake people make.”

Captiva Island Fire Control District Fire Chief Jeff Pawul agreed.

“If you are not prepared for the storms, it will be too late once a storm is approaching; supplies and time will be limited,” he said. “It is important to prepare for hurricanes because they can pose a variety of threats, such as wind, flooding, storm surge, flying debris and loss of power.”

On the islands, a minor storm may knock out the power for a few days and produce some flooding, while a major storm could call for evacuation. Both require planning ahead and being prepared.

Dalton noted that the barrier islands have an average elevation of only 3.5 feet.

“So we’re very prone to storm surge,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons why we do evacuations.”

Early preparations should include gathering supplies for an evacuation or sheltering in place, making a family plan and testing storm protection equipment in advance, like storm shutters and generators.

“Storm preparation means being ready to evacuate or stay in place for not only yourself, but your children and pets,” Pawul said. “You could be without power for days or even weeks after a storm – remember, no power means no A/C or water. Food and water supplies will be hard to come by.”

Barrett recommended a minimum three-day supply of water per person, along with a good supply of non-perishable food items and dry goods. Other suggestions include required medications, battery-powered or hand-crank radio, flashlights with batteries, cell phone chargers, clothes and pet supplies.

Residents should also gather together important documents.

The family plan should include an evacuation plan, in the case of a major storm – where will you go, who will you stay with – as well as a sheltering-in-place plan if you plan to stay for minor storms.

“They should formulate that plan now,” Dalton said.

Sanibel Police Lt. Grace Towler also suggested that island residents and business owners check to make sure they have their hurricane re-entry passes, in order to return following an evacuation.

“This is the perfect time,” she said. “We want them to be prepared. Don’t wait until a storm is approaching.”

Residents are also encouraged to sign up for the AlertLee notifications, the emergency notification system that replaced CodeRed last year. The city and Lee County use the tool to send targeted alerts.

Those previously registered with CodeRed must sign up for AlertLee to receive alerts. Users can receive alerts on multiple devices at home and on cell phones. Sign-up for the free service online at member.everbridge.net/index/892807736729346#/signup.

When a hurricane is approaching, residents should monitor the city and county Websites and local media for important up-to-date information. Also, follow any evacuation orders and recommendations.

“They’re going to have to enact their hurricane plan,” Dalton said, noting that each family’s plan is going to be different and customized. “If it is a major storm, we encourage people to evacuate.”

Preparations should include putting up hurricane shutters, removing loose items from the yard and bringing them inside to prevent them from becoming projectiles, and gassing up any vehicles.

“Everything out there can be a missile,” Barrett said of loose yard items.

Towler also suggested keeping in contact with family or friends about your plan.

During and after the storm, hunker down until officials give the all clear.

“Even after the storm goes through, there are still hazards,” Dalton said, citing downed power lines and even busted sewer and water lines. “So folks shouldn’t be out just wandering around after the storm.”

Once the storm passes, police and fire will work with the city, county and other agencies to get the island cleared as quickly as possible. During evacuations, a checkpoint will be set up at the toll booth at the bridge. As specific zones or areas are cleared, residents and businesses will be allowed back on.

“If you plan to ride out a storm, the most important thing to remember is once conditions deteriorate that also means emergency services will not be responding if something goes wrong,” Pawul said. “Calling 911 during a storm will not bring you any relief or safety.”

“Public safety agencies will be evacuating if any significant storm surge is predicted for the islands,” he added. “The damage from wind and flying debris is much easier to prepare for then the damage a storm surge could do.”

For those relying on a generator after a storm, place it outside and follow the instructions.

“The big thing with the generators is you really have to be aware of the carbon monoxide,” Barrett said. “Make sure it’s far enough away from the house. Make sure the exhaust is not blowing into an open door or window.”

The city of Sanibel’s Website is at www.mysanibel.com.

Lee County’s site is at www.leegov.com/publicsafety/emergencymanagement.

The community is also encouraged to sign up for the city’s email list, also on the Website.