TAMPA — The Weather Channel has some advice for folks living in Tampa Bay: be very well prepared in the event that a significant hurricane makes landfall this year.
In fact, Tampa is among five cities that Dr. Rick Knabb, hurricane expert at The Weather Channel, has put on his list of the Top 5 “Hurricane Overdue Cities.” Those are cities that haven’t experienced a direct hit from a significant hurricane in years. The five cities are Honolulu, San Diego, New York City, Savannah, Georgia, and Tampa. June 1 marked the beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1-Nov. 30
But while these cities are considered overdue, that doesn’t mean Knabb has already predicted any of them will get hit this season. That’s a science that hasn’t been perfected yet, he said.
“All we really know for this year is most indications are it will be a busy or above-average year overall,” Knabb told Freeline Media. “What areas on land will be struck by hurricanes, that’s not possible to forecast this far out. But the numbers often don’t matter much. Last year we had the third busiest season and no storms made landfall in the United States.”
It’s that unpredictability, he added, that’s crucial. If a few storm seasons go by and no storms hit the continental U.S., people start to assume they’re safe. And that’s when they let their guard down, he warned.
“That’s why preparedness is so important,” Knabb said.
Knabb released his list of overdue cities because of that concern about complacency. Residents of Florida, he noted, experienced a devastating and unpredictable storm season in the summer of 2004, when no fewer than three hurricanes — Charlie, Frances and Jeanne –struck the state, causing significant damage across Central Florida.
“The paticular list this year is a selective collection of cities that have not experienced the direct impact of a significant hurricane in a long, long time,” he said. “Realizing that the state of Florida has a long history of being hit a lot, Tampa has been fortunate not to be hit direcly in a while. It’s been 1921 since a major hurricane had a direct impact there, and there’s a lot more people living there now. The focus here is hurricane awareness, and encouraging people to act if a hurricane does come their way.”
Taking steps now to prepare for a possible hurricane isn’t event that complicated, he said.
“Find out if you are in a storm surge evacuation zone,” he said. “Then you’ve got to figure out where you would evacuate to, what route would you take and where would you go.
“The other thing they can do is go visit their insurance agent and make sure they have enough coverage to replace their home or contents if a hurricane destroyed it,” Knabb added. “Have a hurricane supply kit — that you should get now. Have those things that you will need to survive without electricity or running water or any help coming your way for a few days. It’s these kinds of things that we hope people will do.”
The Weather Channel isn’t alone in cautioning people that calm weather at the start of a hurricane season doesn’t guarantee a storm-free summer.
The Lake County Department of Public Safety, Emergency Management Division, is reminding county residents about the importance of being prepared for the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season, and encouraging them to take advantage of the county’s new emergency notification system, AlertLake.
It was launched earlier this year and uses landline telephone information housed within the emergency 911 database to distribute emergency information.
Residents who don’t have a landline telephone can register their cellular and voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) phones, as well as e-mail address through the county’s website at www.lakecountyfl.gov to receive notifications. AlertLake also has accommodations for disseminating information in 27 different languages.
“The one unique thing in this year is we now have our AlertLake system,” said Kelly LaFollette, Lake County’s information outreach director. “That’s going to be a key component in getting people alerted whenever hurricanes and natural disasters occur. AlertLake is the sytem that allows people to register over their cell phones or the Internet so they can get alerted in their local area if there’s severe weather or hazardous waste spills. We hope that people would also have a weather radio, but this is just another way to keep the public informed.”
She agreed with Knabb that simple steps can save lives if the storm season unexpectedly turns deadly.
“Preparedeness is key, and having a family disaster plan is key to ensuring your family is equipped for any storms,” she said. “They always say it might take three days for emergency personnel tor reach you in a massive disaster, so you want to be sure your family is cared for for at least three days.”
Knabb said education is an important aspect of dealing with something nobody can prevent: a natural disaster.
“We want people to be aware of the risk,” Knabb said. “I’ve talked to people who have lived in a hurricane-prone area for years without going through a significant hurricane. Many of them have concluded, ‘Well I guess I don’t have a hurricane problem and don’t need to prepare.’ That can be a dangerous situation. We risk the outcome being a very dangerous one, particularly for people vulnerable to a strong storm surge. That’s the hazard that can kill the most people in one day, more than any other storm phenomenon.”
Highlighting the five most overdue cities gets people’s attention, he added — and that’s the first step in educating them further.
“It is an education component,” he said. “We cannot predict with any kind of accuracy what cities will be hit this year or in the next several years. But we do know what past history teaches us. My hope is people will be motivated to have a preparedness plan in place. Just have a plan. It doesn’t mean you’re going to get hit this year, it just means it’s a been a long time and you could be vulnerable.”
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