All Quiet On the Hurricane Front Half-Way Through Season, But Don’t Relax Yet
FlaglerLive | August 21, 2013
Almost halfway finished, the 2013 hurricane season has been a breeze in Florida.
Just two tropical storms formed in the North Atlantic basin during July. That’s not unusual. If anything, it’s more than usual: based on a 30-year average, about one named storm forms, on average, in July, according to the Miami-based National Hurricane Center. Just two formed in June, for a total of four–Andrea, Barry, Chantal and Dorian, with none of the four exceeding 65 mph sustained winds. (See their mapped track below.)But Craig Fugate, the federal government’s top emergency manager, looks at things a little differently. His question: “Have we started playing college football yet?”
Fugate and Bryan Koon, director of the state Division of Emergency Management, held a news conference Wednesday to reinforce the message that Florida is just entering the thick of hurricane season in late August and September — which, coincidentally is when college football starts.
The folksy Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, knows what he is talking about. He formerly served as Florida’s top emergency manager, including during the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, when seven hurricanes plowed into the state.
Despite the memories of those devastating years, Fugate and Koon expressed concerns that Floridians will not take steps such as heeding evacuation orders if a storm comes.
“I think it’s in our DNA — we go through denial,” said Fugate, who started his career as a fire-rescue worker in Alachua County.
Florida has been spared hurricane damage during the past several years and has not been seriously threatened this year. Quiet periods during hurricane season can paradoxically unnerve emergency managers, who worry that Floridians will interpret year after year of relative quiet as reason to relax more than they should, or to take storm emergencies less seriously than they ought to, once those emergencies happen. And they will happen.
The emergency managers said late August and September are considered high points of the hurricane season because of warm water temperatures that help fuel the storms.
Koon noted that Saturday is the 21st anniversary of Hurricane Andrew slamming into Miami-Dade County and said it “only takes one” hurricane to cause massive damage. The hurricane season started June 1 and lasts through Nov. 30.
The emergency managers focused heavily on the need for Floridians to follow evacuation orders. Fugate said the public becomes too fixated on the category of the storm — with Categories 1 through 5 delineating strength — and that much of the worst damage often comes from issues such as storm surge and flooding.
“Don’t focus on the number, focus on the impacts,” Fugate said. “The category of a storm does not tell you all the impacts.”
Koon said evacuations and forecasts are not an “exact science” and that sometimes people will be told to leave areas that, in the end, don’t need to be evacuated. But he said emergency officials are focused on saving lives.
Florida also could face increased damage if a hurricane hits this year because of heavy rains that have already saturated many areas. Flagler County is among those areas: the drought index is at an extremly low 88, on a scale of 800, with 800 signifying bone-dry conditions and zero signifying saturation. Koon said that could lead to problems such as increased flooding, more trees falling down and roads washing out.
No tropical storm formation is expected over the next five days, the Hurricane Center reports, which may ensure that no tropical storm will hit the Florida coast or the Eastern seaboard or Gulf of Mexico before September.
–News Service of Florida and FlaglerLive