Florida’s Severe Weather Awareness Week takes place from January 31 – February 4, 2011. Severe Weather Awareness Week is an opportunity for Floridians to learn about the various weather hazards that frequently impact the state and how families and businesses can prepare for these natural events.
Each day focuses on a specific weather event. Thursday’s focus is on hurricanes and flooding.
The most feared weather phenomenon throughout Florida during the summer and early fall is the tropical cyclone. Close to the tropics and surrounded on three sides by warm water, Florida is particularly vulnerable to these systems as they develop and move generally westward across the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea.
Florida has a long history of hurricanes. Records indicate that approximately 110 hurricanes and almost 200 tropical storms have impacted the state since 1851 with many more cited in history books before records were kept.
DID YOU KNOW??? No other state in the country has more hurricane landfalls per year on average than Florida does. Nearly 40% of all hurricanes that strike the United States make landfall in Florida.
The unique location of Florida in the sub-tropics makes it vulnerable to tropical storms and hurricanes and the relatively flat terrain can also make it susceptible to flooding. Florida is surrounded by very warm waters, which breed and support hurricanes: the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the Gulf of Mexico to the west and the Caribbean Sea well to the south.
The North Atlantic Ocean hurricane season officially begins on June 1st and continues through November 30th. However, tropical systems can still from outside of hurricane season as early as May and as late as December. Although the number of tropical storms and hurricanes typically peaks during August and September, it is important to remember that Florida can be impacted by tropical weather systems any time during the six-month-long season. Residents and visitors need to plan ahead and remain ready for possible hurricane impacts.
The 2010 hurricane season was record-breaking in several ways. 2010 recorded 19 named storms, putting it in third place for most named storms in a season, right behind 1933 and 2005. Luckily, only one out of the 19 named storms to form in 2010 made landfall in the United States. For the fifth year in a row, Florida escaped major impacts from hurricanes. Nevertheless, Florida was the only state to receive a direct landfall from a named storm last year when Tropical Storm Bonnie moved inland in South Florida on July 23, 2010.
Despite the inactivity in the state over the past few years, we know that it only takes one storm to affect our state for long lasting impacts to be felt. The 1992 Hurricane Season serves as a reminder of this fact, as six tropical cyclones formed (a normal year has eleven), but one storm intensified into a major hurricane (Andrew) and produced widespread devastation as it made landfall near Miami and travelled across the South Florida Peninsula. This is why residents and visitors need to always be prepared for hurricanes, even if below normal hurricane activity is forecast.
DID YOU KNOW??? Hurricane Andrew remains one of only three hurricanes to make landfall at Category 5 intensity in the United States (in addition to the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane which crossed the Florida Keys and Hurricane Camille which struck Mississippi in 1969.)
Only a small percentage of the numerous low pressure systems that move across the warm Atlantic waters during the summer are able to take advantage of favorable conditions to become more organized. A tropical storm will have sustained winds of 39-73 mph. When a storm’s maximum sustained winds reach 74 mph, it is considered a hurricane, and when sustained wind speeds reach 111 mph, it is considered a major hurricane. Meteorologists use the Saffir-Simpson Scale to rate the strength of a hurricane based on wind speed.
When a tropical system approaches the state, The National Hurricane Center will issue watches and warnings. Do you know the difference between a watch and warning? Watches are issued 48 hours in advance of the time dangerous winds are possible within the specified area. Warnings are issued 36 hours prior to the time when damaging winds are expected. A watch should trigger your family’s disaster plan, and protective measures should be initiated. Once a warning has been issued, your family should be in the process of completing protective actions and deciding the safest location to be during the storm.
DID YOU KNOW??? In the last 150 years, all of Florida’s coastal counties have been impacted by at least one hurricane.
Your main protection against hurricanes is to be prepared and have a plan. Hurricane force winds can easily destroy poorly constructed buildings and mobile homes. A hurricane plan doesn’t have to be anything extremely complicated, but should at least consist of the following two things. First, determine whether you live in an evacuation zone. This information can be obtained from your local emergency management office. If you live in an evacuation zone, know when and where you will be going to pass the storm. Have a list of emergency telephone numbers handy. Second, stock up on non-perishable supplies, batteries for electronic devices such as your NOAA Alert Radio, and have a disaster supply kit ready with enough provisions to last 3 to 5 days. To minimize wind damage, asses your property to ensure that landscaping and tress do not become a wind hazard.
While hurricanes are known and feared for their ferocious winds, historically it is the water that causes most of the deaths in hurricanes. About 90% of all hurricane fatalities occur from drowning in either storm surge or freshwater flooding.
The widespread flooding caused by Tropical Storm Fay in 2008 serves as a reminder that tropical storms can cause as much or greater devastation than hurricanes with freshwater flooding.
Even outside of tropical systems, flooding is a serious concern in Florida since it can happen anywhere and at any time. Effects from flooding can be localized, impacting just a few streets in a neighborhood or community, or very large, affecting multiple cities, counties and even whole states. Flooding is caused by the amount of rainfall (meteorology) and what happens to the rain after it hits the ground (hydrology).
As our state’s population increases, buildings and pavement replace the natural land. This creates more water runoff and can increase flood problems. Most deaths due to flooding in the United States are due to people driving their cars into flooded areas. Once a vehicle begins to float, the situation for the driver and passengers becomes dangerous and often deadly.
DID YOU KNOW??? Just 6 inches of fast-moving floodwater can knock you off your feet and 2 feet of water can sweep an SUV off a road.
Residents should be aware of their location with respect to flood-prone areas and know evacuation routes. People are also urged to be extremely cautious when driving in heavy rains, especially when water covers the road. Because it is difficult to determine the depth of water or the condition of the road under the water, if you come to a flooded road, remember the phrase “Turn Around, Don’t Drown”.
Meteorologists at the Southeast River Forecast Center and local National Weather Service offices all watch the weather and use satellite pictures, Doppler radar and computer models to try to warn people well in advance of the flooding, so they can save lives and property. Flood Watches and Warnings, along with Flash Flood Watches and warning are issued for a specific area when flooding conditions are likely or are already occurring.
National Flood Awareness Week is March 14-18, 2011. National Hurricane Preparedness Week is May 22-28, 2011. More information about hurricanes and flooding and what you can do to protect yourself and others can be found at www.nhc.noaa.gov, http://www.weather.gov/floodsafety/ or www.FloridaDisaster.org.
Friday’s tropic will be on temperatures extremes and wildfires.