Every year, we hear the forecast. Multiple forecasts, in fact. So many numbers. So many messages. But officials say there’s really only one thing to remember: “It only takes one”.
NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) released their forecast for the 2014 Atlantic Hurricane Season today, predicting a “near-normal or below-normal” year. This follows other private forecaster’s outlooks for below-normal activity earlier in the spring. The likely development of El Niño this summer is the main driver of this year’s forecast, which typically correlates to fewer and weaker storms in the Atlantic Basin.
Officials and emergency managers in the State of Florida warn residents, however, that a seasonal forecast can be misleading.
“Overall seasonal activity does not correlate to landfall impacts. Even in below average years, people die.”
In his address at the annual Governor’s Hurricane Conference last week, National Hurricane Center Director Dr. Rick Knabb pointed out that even in last year’s relatively weak season, there were dozens of fatalities and multiple landfalls in the country of Mexico. He referenced many seasons where the overall number of storms were not related to the impacts of landfalling systems, most explicitly in 1992 and 1983. Andrew and Alicia were the only major hurricanes in those years, yet they caused catastrophic damage in south Florida and southeast Texas. Conversely, 2010 was an extremely active season in the Tropical Atlantic when 12 hurricanes formed, 5 of them major, yet none hit the United States directly.
Knabb went on to point out that Floridians are at risk every year from multiple hazards of tropical storms and hurricanes in the state of Florida. “No matter where it is you live, no matter what the seasonal forecasts say, no matter what last year was like or what the last ten years have been like, no matter how long you’ve lived here; you could experience wind or water hazards that could be life threatening this year.”
The Director of FEMA, Craig Fugate, is no stranger to hurricanes and the impact they can have on Florida. He was the state’s acting emergency management director during the infamous 2004 season, also a year when El Nino conditions were expected to develop. Florida was dealt significant impacts from four hurricanes that year, three crossing the state as a Category 3 or higher, or Major Hurricane. He echoes the same message.
“If you go back in history, there’s been no part of Florida’s coast that has not been hit by hurricanes. There’s no part of the state that’s more than 100 miles from the coast. Seasonal forecasts don’t mean anything. If you live in Florida, you better know what to do.”
New technology could make it easier for residents to understand the hazards an approaching storm could pose this year, especially if they are near a coastline but not necessarily right along the coast. A new Storm Surge Inundation map will be released by The National Hurricane Center in advance of every storm. GIS tools make this map especially useful, as it will better depict which neighborhoods, some miles from the coast, that could be flooded by a storm surge and how high the water could rise above ground level for that particular location.
But even with the new tools and a forecast for a relatively “mild” season, many Floridians are likely complacent. The last time a hurricane hit the state, YouTube and Facebook were just a year old and Twitter didn’t even exist. For a state that averages one landfall every other year yet hasn’t seen one since 2005, probabilities suggest Florida is now overdue.
Brian Koon, Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, says the risk to Floridians has not changed. “We’re going to get hurricanes in the future. It’s imperative that Floridians take hurricane season seriously and prepare accordingly.”
The message from officials this year is clear. Updated forecasts and new technology won’t keep Floridians safe. It’s up to the citizens to act, get a plan, prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Fugate ended his comments with this suggestion:
“If you have a plan and you know what you’re doing, enjoy the summer.”