Gainesville and Ocala are protected because they are both inland, right? And besides, doesn’t the Gulf Stream steer storms away? It’s not a matter of if, but when these North Florida hurricane myths will be proven wrong again.
“I fear that people have forgotten the lessons of Charley, which showed very graphically that you could have a hurricane tear across the state and do a lot of damage along the way,” expressed Steve Letro, former Meteorologist in Charge for the National Weather Service in Jacksonville. ”There’s a tendency to think we’re inland and away from the action. People just don’t seem to learn the lessons from other hurricanes and focus too much on the category.”
Letro further points out that even winds of tropical storm strength can still produce damage. ”A 58mph gust is considered severe and can uproot trees or knock down power lines, and winds of that strength can occur 50 to 100 miles from the storm center in the outer rain bands.”
Hurricane Charley produced winds of hurricane strength over 100 miles inland from where it made landfall in 2004. Dozens of neighborhoods in the greater Orlando metropolitan area sustained significant tree, power line and structural damage. Considering both Gainesville and Ocala are less than 60 miles from the Nature Coast, the idea that residents of both cities are out of harms way couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Another misconception about hurricanes in relation to North Florida is that the Gulf Stream steers them out to see. The Gulf Stream is a current of very warm water that moves in a northeast direction just off-shore of Florida’s First Coast. UF Associate Professor of Geography Corene Matyas explains, ”While it’s true that they need warm water to intensify, hurricanes are actually steered by currents in the atmosphere and other internal circulations within the storm.”
When you look at all of the storms that have come within 100 miles of Gainesville over the past 30 years, you’ll see that they’ve come from nearly all directions – south, west, and east with no clear pattern. This alone discredits the idea that the geography of the coastline or the alignment of an ocean current factors in to the probability that a storm will come ashore in North-Central Florida.
Nearly all forecasts for the upcoming season, both public and private, are projecting an active year in the Atlantic Basin. And considering it has been seven years since a Major Hurricane has hit the state, Floridians should be extra diligent in their preseason preparations. WRUF will have tropical updates all season long on TV at 20 past the hour, on the radio in the mornings at 7:30 and 8:30am, and on Twitter (@WRUFWeather) anytime of day.