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Thursday, Oct 23, 2014
Editorials

Despite calm, it’s still hurricane season

Published:

For anyone thinking the forecasts for an active Atlantic hurricane season have turned out to be a joke, the nation’s chief emergency manager issued a pointed warning.

“Have we started playing college football yet?” asked Craig Fugate, who heads the Federal Emergency Management Agency and previously ran Florida’s equivalent agency.

Fugate’s point, a serious one, is this: We’re just entering the peak period of the Atlantic hurricane season — which coincides with the kickoff of college football — so no one should be fooled into thinking it will continue to remain calm until the season officially ends Nov. 30.

The historical peak of the Atlantic season is around Sept. 10.

So far this season, which began June 1, there have been five named storms, including Tropical Storm Andrea, which lashed the Tampa Bay area in June before making landfall in Florida’s Big Bend.

The National Hurricane Center’s Web page map on Thursday afternoon was mostly clear. A small disturbance in the northeast Gulf was being monitored by center specialists, who gave it a 10 percent chance of developing into a tropical cyclone as it headed west. But that wasn’t the case on Aug. 24, 1992 — 21 years ago this Saturday.

Hurricane Andrew devastated parts of South Florida. The storm then crossed the southern peninsula, went into the Gulf of Mexico and made another landfall in Louisiana.

Andrew was a Category 5 monster with 160-plus-mph winds and a 17-foot storm surge. The storm’s effects killed 23 people in Florida and Louisiana and caused more than $25 billion in damage. In Florida, the storm also forced a change in building codes and wrecked the homeowners insurance market.

And remember, Hurricane Sandy, which eventually became known as Superstorm Sandy, didn’t strike the northeast Atlantic Coast until late October last year. The recovery effort is ongoing in some areas.

In 2012 alone, seven named storms developed in September and October — including Sandy and one other hurricane. So we should not let down our guard.

In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is still calling for a high chance of an above-normal season. In its Aug. 8 update, its numbers stack up like this: There’s a 70 percent chance of 13 to 19 overall named storms and six to nine hurricanes, three or five of which could be major.

With many areas of Florida already saturated from heavy summer rains, tropical systems could cause even more damage than normal. This is yet another reason why Floridians need to be mindful of the season.

As Bryan Koon, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, points out, forecasts and evacuations are not “exact science” — but that the emphasis is on saving lives.

Floridians could very well save their own by making it a habit of checking the weather for hurricane season updates, having a disaster kit and evacuation plan, and listening to the directives of their local emergency managers should a tropical storm or hurricane threaten.

Nov. 30 is still a good ways off.

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