Hurricane director warns Floridians to prepare for busy storm season,
Hurricane director warns Floridians to prepare for busy storm season, virus
By the time Hurricane Florence finally reached North Carolina after 10-plus days of news coverage in September 2018, "it got to the point where people were like, 'Come on already. Why don't you get here?' " National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham recalled.
But the following month, Hurricane Michael was a mere tropical storm with 50 mph winds just three days before landfall as a rare Category 5 monster near Mexico Beach, unleashing catastrophic destruction across Florida's Panhandle.
Graham's warning for the 2020 season: Hurricanes don't care about your timeline.
"You run out of real estate — by real estate, I mean ocean. You run out of time before it gets to land," Graham said Thursday during a Melbourne Regional Chamber virtual speech.
"So that's something to think about. Please exercise your plans quicker. Practice them. If you work a five-day plan, practice it in two to three days and see if there's any challenges in your plan," he said.
Graham stressed safety amid an expected above-normal Atlantic hurricane season, which is further complicated by the coronavirus pandemic. The season started June 1 and lasts through Nov. 30.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasters expect 13 to 19 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), including six to 10 hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher) and three to six major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5 with winds of 111 mph or higher).
"Every storm is so different. Every storm brings surprises. Preparedness is everything — now more than ever with COVID. We're telling people, 'Better do things earlier.' Avoid the rush. Don't wait for the last minute," Graham said.
National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham.
"Maybe some new items in the kit this year, right? More PPE. Never thought we'd have to add a mask to my hurricane kit. But, yeah. That's something new," he said.
Brevard County emergency management officials plan to triple the amount of floor space per evacuee at hurricane shelters for COVID-19 social distancing. Individual floor space will jump from 15 square feet to 45 square feet.
When Hurricane Matthew approached in October 2016, 4,281 people moved into Brevard hurricane shelters for safety. In September 2017, Hurricane Irma sent 3,667 people to county-operated shelters.
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The 2020 hurricane season is off to a fast start. Last week, a tropical disturbance passed from the Gulf of Mexico across Florida's Panhandle, tracking to the northeast. This system spawned Tropical Storm Fay, which swirled to life off North Carolina's Outer Banks and made landfall July 10 near Atlantic City, New Jersey.
"Looking at the names so far, we've set some records that we really don't want to set. It was the earliest we've ever had the C-storm with Cristobal (June 2). And the earliest we've seen the F-storm as well," Graham said.
Graham delivered a list of hurricane observations gleaned during his 27-year career. Among the highlights:
• Since 2010 in the United States, Category 1 hurricanes have caused a "staggering" 175 direct deaths and $105 billion in damages.
"It's not even about the category. It really is about the impacts," Graham said.
• A hurricane's last-minute "wiggle" of 30 to 40 miles can mean the difference between a 1-foot storm surge and a 9- to 10-foot surge.
"Little wiggles matter," he said.
• Historically, eight times as many people older than 60 suffer indirect deaths from U.S. tropical cyclones than people under age 21.
"It's something to think about with the vulnerable population, and making sure we're taking care of others. Because there's so many factors. It could be health. It could also be, 'Well, I've been through this before. I'm not leaving,' " he said.
Graham warned that it may be a stressful hurricane season in Florida amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's an African monsoon that's going to be hyperactive — it already is. We have some dust saving us right now, but that won't be the whole season. Then the heat content of the oceans is very high. It's not just the surface temperatures. It's the actual heat content," Graham said.
"And you've probably seen: A La Niña year usually means the Atlantic will be very busy. So everything's pretty much coming together for a busy season," he said.
"But that's not a forecast for landfall. That's basically over the whole basin, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic. That's where we're going to see some busine