- Florida officials say a new supercomputer is expected to improve storm predictions by 10-15 percent.
- Officials also point out that no two storms are alike and understanding key differences will save lives.
- At a press conference, the officials urged residents to prepare for the Atlantic hurricane season despite “near-normal” forecast, citing lessons from Hurricane Ian’s devastation last year.
As the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season starts, Florida officials are urging residents to prepare for the worst, even though the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is forecasting a “near-normal” season. State officials warned residents on Thursday not to underestimate the potential damage of an “average” season, reminding Floridians of the lessons learned from Hurricane Ian’s catastrophic impact last year.
“Last year, we saw one of the most devastating storms in the history of the state with Hurricane Ian. Ian showed how truly unpredictable these storms can be, and how important it is that you always have a disaster plan,” said Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis at a press conference in Orlando, attended by Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) Task Force 4, Orlando Fire Chief Charlie Salazar, local elected officials, legislators, and representatives from utility companies.
There are a total of eight US&R teams statewide that can be immediately deployed to aid communities impacted by natural or man-made disasters. Experts recently predicted the possibility of up to 17 named storms and up to four major hurricanes this season, which began June 1st.
The aftermath of Hurricane Ian was a clear demonstration of the power of these storms. The cyclone caused billions of dollars in damage, bringing life-threatening storm surges and flooding to Southwest Florida barrier islands. The National Flood Insurance Program has since paid nearly $4 billion to policyholders for damage from Ian, not including those without flood insurance.
“When we put those storm surge watches and warnings up, that means we feel there is going to be enough inundation to pose a threat to life,” Mark Wool, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, explained.
“It is vital that everyone’s disaster plan includes making sure that you have proper insurance coverage,” said Insurance Consumer Advocate Tasha Carter, “as well as a downloaded copy of all important documents in case you are forced to evacuate.”
Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie highlighted a new strategy to better inform residents about the potential differences between storms coming straight off the ocean or Gulf of Mexico and storms that encounter natural barriers. State officials say that too many people who weathered previous hurricanes believe erroneously that all subsequent storms will be similar, but that’s simply not the case. For example, before making landfall, Hurricane Irma, which came straight up the Florida peninsula, first encountered mangroves and vegetation throughout the Everglades, which helped weaken the direct impact of winds on residential areas.
“Whereas on Hurricane Ian, it came straight in off the Gulf. It had no mangroves. No-natural based solutions in front of it. And then it hit that Fort Myers Beach area,” Guthrie explained. “And it was a solid 12 to 18 feet of storm surge. So again, we got to do a better job of communicating not just what the storm-surge watches and warnings are, but what they mean based upon the approach of a storm.”
Guthrie believes that better information about the differences between current and previous storms will lead to more informed decision-making and potential life-saving actions.
To help better inform people in the path of future storms, NOAA plans to make a series of upgrades this summer, expanding the capacity of its supercomputing system, which is expected to improve forecast tracks by 10 percent to 15 percent.
Still, Patronis, backed by a cohort of utility company representatives and other emergency officials, reiterated the urgent call for preparedness. He said, “Now is the time to prepare, do not wait until a storm is coming to protect yourself, your family, and your home.”
Patronis encouraged Florida residents to visit PrepareFL.com to start their disaster plans and to call his office’s Insurance Consumer Helpline at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (693-5236) for assistance with insurance issues and the claims process.