JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – We’re in Florida’s Severe Weather Awareness Week, an opportunity for residents 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, the unique location of Florida makes it particularly vulnerable to these systems as they develop across the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. The relatively flat terrain of Florida can also make it susceptible to flooding.
Florida has a long history of hurricanes. Records indicate that approximately 117 hurricanes and around 160 tropical storms have impacted the state since 1888 (132 years), with many more cited in history books prior to that year and even before official records were kept.
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. In the last 150 years, all of Florida’s counties have been impacted by at least one hurricane.
The North Atlantic Ocean hurricane season officially begins on June 1 and continues through Nov. 30. However, tropical systems can form 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 season. Residents and visitors need to plan ahead and remain ready for possible hurricane impacts.
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 or surge are possible within the specified area. Warnings are issued 36 hours prior to the time when damaging winds or storm surge 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.
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 or in by using hte Know Your Zone map.
If you live in an evacuation zone, know when and where you will be going to pass the storm. Second, have a disaster supply kit ready with non-perishable food, batteries for electronic devices such as your NOAA Weather Radio, and enough supplies to last three to five days. 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 and what happens to the rain after it hits the ground.
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 from people driving their cars into flooded areas. Once a vehicle begins to float, the situation becomes dangerous and often deadly.
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.”