Federal forecasters are predicting a busy Atlantic hurricane season this year. And, with the season starting Saturday, state officials are preparing for what lie ahead for Florida this year, and hope residents are too.
This year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, forecasters are predicting a bigger than average hurricane season. NOAA’s lead hurricane meteorologist, Dr. Jerry Bell says it could be as much as 20 named storms with about half strengthening into hurricanes.
“So, people need to start getting ready for the Hurricane Season now. This is absolutely not the time to be complacent,” said Bell.
Florida hasn’t seen a major hurricane in years, but state officials are making sure they’re ready by doing practice drills across the state.
Recently, Florida’s Emergency Management Center finished a successful four-day hurricane exercise. The emergency crew dealt with two hurricanes as well as three chemical and radiological spills that were a result of the simulated storms.
Florida’s top Emergency Management official Bryan Koon says the exercise was much more difficult than anything the state’s dealt with so far.
“Well, we had two tropical storms last year to deal with: Tropical Storms Debby and Isaac. That were presidentially declared disasters, and we had Beryl and Sandy impact the state as well. But, those were just kind of like an appetizer of what could be for a major hurricane,” said Koon.
Having not had a major storm in eight years, Floridians may appear to be less prepared to deal with a major hurricane. But, Koon says he doesn’t believe that’s the case.
“I think there’s probably a couple of things going for us this year. Again, we had some tropical storms last year that demonstrated what even a tropical storm could do to the state. We had upwards of 2 feet of rain and some parts of the state had significant flooding. So, there’s lots of folks in the state that were impacted by that and will remember that. Certainly, there was lots of coverage of Superstorm Sandy and the impacts that brought to the Northeast part of the country. So, I think folks probably have a good awareness of the impacts the hurricanes will bring with them," Koon added.
But, Koon says he is concerned about federal budget cuts, also known as sequestration, and the impact the cuts will have on Florida’s response to a major storm—a concern Governor Rick Scott also shares.
“You know, they’re going to spend less money getting our National Guard ready. They’re going to start furloughing members of our National Guard. They’re going to spend less money with the training of our pilots, and things like that. And, my biggest concern Is while they say sequestration will stop during a disaster, are they going to be ready in the meantime? Is that going to have an impact on the National Guard? Is it going to have an impact on our training or things like that," asked Scott at a recent Florida Governor's Hurricane Conference.
Scott says the cuts could make state emergency management officials jobs’ more difficult, but he knows they’ll do a good job.
“What that means is your job gets harder, especially when people haven’t been through a disaster and they’re down here and they don’t know what the drill’s like. They haven’t spent as much time getting ready, and you do it,” added Scott.
Meanwhile, the state Emergency Management Director Koon says preparedness is key. And, no matter how prepared Floridians believe they are, they can never be too prepared.
“So, I think we enter this season a little bit better off than we had in the past. People certainly understand the danger and severity of these types of storms. So, I want to build on that and remind folks that hurricanes can impact you no matter where you are—whether on the coast or inland—and now is the time to prepare for those storms,” said Koon.
Preparations for the hurricane season include having a disaster plan, knowing your evacuation route and stocking up on food and water. For more information, visit Floridadisaster.org.
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.