ORLANDO – Now more than a month into this year’s mild hurricane season, there’s some good news to report, said WKMG-Channel 6 chief meteorologist Tom Sorrells.
First of all, Bret — the second tropical storm of the Atlantic hurricane season — has been getting weaker as it moves northeast away from the Bahamas, meaning it’s unlikely to turn into a hurricane, Sorrells said.
“Bret isn’t much of a storm,” he said. “Bret is a wuss.”
The second piece of good news, Sorrells said, is that even if a hurricane does strike Florida, chances are slim that area residents could lose their lives during the storm. In fact, he said, people are at much greater risk during a thunder storm that a hurricane – at least from the dangers posed by Mother Nature.
“Yes, we’re ready for the hurricane season, but the big killer here isn’t hurricanes but lightning,” Sorrells said. “We don’t lose many people in the state to hurricanes, but in the last year we lost 10 people to lightning – although we don’t talk about it much. In America, you’re twice as likely to die from lightning than from hurricanes, tornados or floods.”
Even on Aug. 13, 2004, when Central Florida was hit by a category 4 storm, Hurricane Charley, which caused billions of dollars worth of damage, only four people died, Sorrells said – and they owe their deaths more to reckless behavior than simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“They all did something stupid, something they weren’t supposed to do,” he said.
This afternoon, Sorrells was the guest speaker during the monthly meeting of the Orlando Chapter of the Building and Office Managers Association, held at the Sorosis Club in downtown Orlando. His presentation was titled, “Preparing for Hurricane Season,” and Sorrells said preparation is probably the key word, since there isn’t an awful lot that people like himself – professional meteorologists – can do to predict if a hurricane will strike this season.
“I hate to go back to Yogi Berra, because that’s such a cliché, but he did say ‘It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future,’ but that’s what I do for a living,” Sorrells said.
He noted that Colorado State University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration both issued forecasts this spring for the 2011 hurricane season.
“In a normal year, we would have 11 named storms, six hurricanes and two major storms,” Sorrells said.
Colorado State forecast 16 named storms, nine hurricanes and five major storms, while NOAA issued a report calling for 12 named strorms, five hurricanes and three major storms – not that far from a normal year.
Florida has experienced its share of major storms in recent years, including Charley, Frances and Jeanne in 2004, Ivan in 2005 and the most severe of them all, Hurricane Andrew, which devastated South Florida in 1992.
But overall, Sorrells said, Florida isn’t impacted quite as often as some neighboring states.
“We do get blasted a lot, but we don’t get blasted as much as the coastal Carolinas,” he said. “We don’t get blasted as much as the Panhandle and New Orleans and Texas. You live in a good zone.”
The other challenge that meteorologists have, he said, is that it’s impossible to fully predict how powerful the storm will get as it reaches land.
“The thing we suck at is the intensity of the storm – can’t figure it out, can’t figure it out,” he said.
That was abundantly clear in 2004 when Hurricane Charley came through downtown Orlando and knocked out power – including at the Channel 6 studio.
“My station lost power in Hurricane Chalrey as it came over us,” he said. “We were still broadcasting, but doing it in the dark.”
During the luncheon meeting, Palmer Electric distributed a flyer with “BOMA’s Top 10 Tips to Prepare for Hurricane Season,” which included creating an emergency preparedness plan, removing objects around the building like trash cans or site furniture, identifing windows and doors that need to be boarded or taped, identifing additional building elements that may need special attention, reviewing local evacuation procedures, determining a communications plan for evacuating, beginning shutdown preparations when a hurricane watch has been issued, training the building’s tenants on evacuation procedures, developing a system to notify tenants about the storm’s status, and appointing a re-entry team to review how much damage has been done to the building.
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