As the most-active hurricane season on record ends on Monday, Florida overall has been relatively lucky, as has Flagler County, where the dolorous days of hurricanes Matthew and Irma are fading behind designs of hulking, if yet to be built, dunes.
The 2020 Atlantic season has put up 30 named storms, requiring the use of the auxiliary Greek alphabet for only the second time since 1950, when the public naming of storms began.
Also, it has included 13 hurricanes, of which six were categorized as “major” storms, with winds over 111 mph. That included 160 mph winds before Hurricane Iota made landfall Nov. 16 in Nicaragua.
However, in a season that overlapped the coronavirus pandemic, most storms spun away from Florida, sparing communities double-barreled crises of responding to a major storm while contending with restrictions and safety concerns imposed by the coronavirus.
There is no scientific explanation for the Peninsula’s fortune.
“I’d say it’s luck,” National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Wool said. “There really isn’t any one particular thing that we can hang our hat on and say, ‘Well, this is what protected Florida this year.’ It just happened to be the positioning of the steering currents, as various systems developed, continuously steered them into the Gulf of Mexico as opposed to approaching from the east.”
But just because the season officially ends Monday, don’t expect the tropics to be quiet–or emergency management officials to go quietly into the dusk until next June. Flagler County’s Jonathan Lord, in his annual briefing to the press, underscores the artificiality of hurricane seasons and the importance of remaining vigilant for any eventuality throughout the year, now that the climate is becoming less predictable and a lot more temperamental almost by the year.
“I would not be at all surprised if we have another one or maybe even two named systems that develop between now and when we are finally said and done,” Wool, who works in Tallahassee, said. “Like I said, we have already established all sorts of records for this season, including the most named storms on record.”
Florida has been touched by four of the named storms, and only what had been Hurricane Eta made direct landfall in the state.
In fact, Eta technically twice made landfall, south of Islamorada in Monroe County on Nov. 9 and near Cedar Key in Levy County on Nov. 12. In each instance, Eta hit the state with tropical-storm force winds. By the time its outer blades reached Flagler, it was more of a fitful than a tropical storm, dumping rain but otherwise doing little to no damage to the county. Reports of power outages were rare, made the rarer by Florida Power and Light’s continuing hardening of its local infrastructure, with concrete poles replacing wooden ones in many places.
Storms don’t just damage properties and the shoreline. They hamper the tourism-dependent economy, which has already been battered by the coronavirus. Last year Hurricane Dorian’s effects battered Flagler County’s tourism-tax receipts for a couple of months. But this year, in sharp contrast with much of the rest of the state, Flagler’s tourism-tax revenue has rebounded and exceeded last year’s since July. A storm-less season is at least in part the reason.
The state’s economy remains mired in the pandemic’s effects and, to some extent, in the state’s less-than-aggressive response to it: Gov. Ron DeSantis’s approach of lifting all restrictions has not necessarily worked to the state’s advantage in attracting more visitors, with tourism still down 30 percent in the last quarter, compared to last year–despite the quieter storm season.
The most memorable of this year’s storms for Florida was Hurricane Sally, which crossed the southern end of the peninsula as a depression before making landfall Sept. 15 near Gulf Shores, Ala.
Sally brought massive storm surge and flooding to the western Panhandle, including in Pensacola. Among other things, the storm led to damage on the Pensacola Bay Bridge after a barge broke loose because of heavy surf.
Sally also was responsible for three deaths in Florida, while crop, livestock and aquaculture losses have been estimated between $55 million and $100 million by University of Florida economists.
In some ways Flagler County is still recovering from Hurricanes Matthew and Irma: the county has yet to lift its Matthew emergency in so far as procurement goes. The county planed and executed its only and most-massive dunes reconstruction project since, rebuilding dunes along much of the county’s 18 miles. A more elaborate project is pending in Flagler Beach, where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is planning to build a substantially larger dune system that doubles up as renourishment for the beach. The county is itself planning to do likewise north and south of the Army Corps project.
Also this season, a disturbance crossed the Panhandle in July that later grew into Tropical Storm Fay off the coast of Georgia. And August opened with Isaias running north off Florida’s East Coast as a strong tropical storm.
None of this year’s storms brought the tension Hurricane Dorian created along the East Coast in 2019, the carnage Hurricane Michael inflicted on the Panhandle in 2018 or the sweeping damage Hurricane Irma left across much of the state in 2017.
Meanwhile, Louisiana had five landfalls this year.
The season was so active that storm watches and warnings were issued by the National Hurricane Center at some point for all but one county or parish along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, from the Mexico border to Maine. That county was Wakulla, part of the Big Bend region south of Tallahassee.
Wool called that simply an “astounding coincidence.”
The Big Bend also was the least storm-impacted region along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, according to the National Weather Service.
The six-month hurricane season officially started June 1, but there had already been two named storms — both off the Carolinas — before that date.
Florida disaster-management workers had been at an elevated level of preparedness for three months before the hurricane season because of the coronavirus pandemic. They also had to modify hurricane plans on issues such as evacuations, shelters and arrangements for relief crews because of the pandemic.
Wool said some of those changes are expected to carry over whenever the pandemic is eventually considered under control.
“We were really trying to get people to think critically about, ‘Do you really need to evacuate?’” Wool said. “And if you do, try to seek out family or friends versus a public shelter, because those shelters were not going to be able to hold as many people due to social distancing concerns.”
–News Service of Florida and FlaglerLive
It’s the deal that I have with the Almighty, anywhere I relocate to in FL is spared the catastrophic Hurricanes & direct hits. Year 1 in FPC (2019), Dorian was a Cat 5 that stalled and totally missed FL. 2020, not a single hurricane storm as a hit. Oh, we’ve had a tornado or two and thunderstorms that were probably worse than hurricanes in isolated areas for an hour or so, those missed me too. I probably should get paid for this level of protection from storms.
Where I lived before, Fernandina Beach, FL (2016-2018), little more than a day without power for tropical storm force storms that were hurricane force storms & flooding for Jacksonville, FL. Before that, Miami, FL, no hurricanes of note. It wasn’t until after leaving Miami-Dade county, then the hurricane storms & floods for the time I was in Fernandina Beach. Coincidence, I think not. Hey, you guys recall Matthew & Irma in 2016 & 2017. 2018, at the end of the storm season I was in the process of house hunting & finalizing a relocation to Flagler County from Nassau County.
Celia Pugliese says
Thank you for the reminder FlaglerLive and Thank God hurricane season is over.