With the onset of hurricane season just days away, it’s time to dust off family weather-emergency plans, update windstorm provisions and have getaway bags ready to go on short notice.
Oh, you’d forgotten about hurricanes? Here’s a tip: Just because we haven’t experienced one lately doesn’t mean we’re going to escape a direct hit this season. In fact, we’re overdue.
As Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the National Hurricane Center, said recently: “The further we get from the last hurricane, the closer we get to the next one.” Sooner or later, and probably sooner, the odds will catch up with us.
For many Floridians, especially relatively new arrivals, hurricanes may be a distant and unlikely menace, not a real threat. But old-time Floridians know June 1 marks the beginning of the most dangerous time of the year. There’s a reason a popular book and movie involving a Florida hurricane was called The Mean Season.
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One respected source states that of all recorded hurricanes to hit the United States since 1851, 36 percent, or more than one in three, have made landfall in Florida. Miami, located along Hurricane Alley, is deemed one of the most vulnerable cities on the U.S. mainland.
No one who witnessed the last monster storm to impact South Florida, Hurricane Andrew in 1992, will ever forget the extent of the devastation. Nor the widespread hardship because of electrical outages, lack of food and supplies and impossible traffic jams that came with it.
The storm nearly flattened Homestead and Florida City. It took years for the region’s trauma to abate. Ironically, it also knocked the National Hurricane Center out of commission for a while at its old location on South Dixie Highway, near the University of Miami.
That was 24 years ago. Before that, South Florida had been spared from a direct hit by a severe storm for 27 years — Hurricane Betsy barged through in 1965. But there were many other storms after Andrew that brought with them significant damage and misery, including Hurricane Wilma, which roared at us after making landfall in Naples and crossing the Everglades.
It was the last hurricane to strike Florida, part of the record-breaking 2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season, although many others have come close. The storm killed 25 people, produced massive blackouts and caused millions in damage. And it was only a Category 2 storm when it hit this area.
This year, a shift in the weather pattern increases the threat of hurricanes. Forecasters are cautious about the outlook, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has issued a “La Niña Watch,” which refers to a weather pattern that could create favorable conditions for hurricanes over the Atlantic Ocean.
If La Niña develops, Florida’s lucky streak could come to an end. The Colorado State University annual hurricane forecast, a reliable guide, puts the chances of a major hurricane hitting the East Coast — including the Florida peninsula — at 30 percent.
All of this should be an incentive for preparation. Know where the nearest shelter is. Get an evacuation plan and know where the marked evacuation routes are. If you have a pet, make plans to keep it safe. And by all means, prepare a survival kit that includes food, water, flashlights, batteries and more, enough to last for several days.
You may not need it. If you do, it could be a lifesaver.