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Preparing for the 2024 hurricane season

Hurricane Ian at peak intensity while approaching southwest Florida on Sept. 28, 2022.
Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite Program, CC BY-SA 4.0
Wikimedia Commons
Hurricane Ian at peak intensity while approaching southwest Florida on Sept. 28, 2022.

On this episode of Florida Matters, we talk with emergency management leaders from Hillsborough, Pinellas and Hernando counties about how they’re getting ready for hurricane season.

Hurricane season weather forecast

The start of hurricane season is just over a week away. Forecasters are predicting an extremely active season, with 11 hurricanes, including five major hurricanes.

But even storms that don’t reach hurricane strength can do a lot of damage. Around Tampa Bay, flooding is a big concern.

Whether you’ve ridden out hurricanes before, or you’re brand new to Tampa Bay, having a plan is key.

“You could have a below average season, and that one storm that develops impacts your area. And so that's an impactful season for you, because that storm caused devastation to your community,” said Megan Borowski, the interim chief meteorologist and director of the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network.

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“I stress to folks to not just look at the seasonal forecast. Treat every season like this could be the season where the hurricane hits me, and approach it that way. You want to be as prepared as possible because you never know, ultimately, when things are going to form and where they're going to track.”

This hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, we’re looking at a potential for 23 named storms, including tropical storms, hurricanes, and major storms. Borowski says right now, the “ingredients” are in place in the Atlantic basin to support tropical activity.

“One thing that we like to look at is sea surface temperatures. Generally, you want sea surface temperatures about 80 degrees or warmer to support that thunderstorm development that you need to sustain tropical systems.”

She says right now, the current sea surface temperature is typically where we are in August, meaning the ocean is very warm ahead of the season, which Borowski says isn’t a good sign.

Another factor is the phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation, which occurs in the Pacific Ocean and has to do with trade winds.

“We have been in an El Niño. However, we are transitioning to a La Niña. Under La Niña conditions, this can actually decrease vertical wind shear over the Atlantic Ocean,” Borowski said.

If the vertical wind shear is strong enough, it can scramble clouds and thunderstorms, preventing tropical storm development. But when it decreases, the wind then supports tropical storm organization.

“The vertical profile generally under La Niña conditions is supportive for those thunderstorms to stay organized. And that could allow them to intensify if they've got the ocean heat content, which right now the ingredients are in place for that too.”

Last year, we were slightly above average for named storms, with 20 named storms (the average is 14). We were right at average for hurricanes and major hurricanes with seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

For more information and to stay up-to-date on storm info, Borowski says to download the “Florida Storms” app for the latest updates from the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network. Also, follow your local National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center site for more information.

Tim Dudley is the the Hillsborough County Emergency Management Director. Mary Burrell is Whole Community Engagement Program Lead for Pinellas County.
Gracyn Doctor
Tim Dudley is the the Hillsborough County Emergency Management Director. Mary Burrell is Whole Community Engagement Program Lead for Pinellas County.

Hurricane preparation

Counties in and around Tampa are preparing for the upcoming hurricane season.

“We've learned a lot in the last couple of years. And we've been just trying to boil it down so that we can explain things simply to people so that they'll know what to do and how to act,” says Mary Burrell, the Whole Community Engagement program lead for Pinellas County.

She says time is one thing you can’t get more of and that right now is the time to get prepared for the season.

“You have time to go out and get those supplies, make your plan, look up your evacuation zone, figure out where you're going to go, all of those things. Now is the time that you really need to do it,” Burrell said. “You've kind of lost a lot of time already as far as fixing your house and getting their shutters and ordering the kind of things that might take a while, but still not too late to do all of those things. But the longer you wait, the harder it is to get ready.”

David DeCarlo, the emergency manager for Hernando County, echoes her sentiments.

“Don't wait until the storm is in the Gulf of Mexico or off the coast of Cuba and everybody's rushing to the all the big box stores to get all their supplies,” he said. “If you prepare now, it'll save yourself a lot of time and energy and anxiety.”

DeCarlo says their four tenets are to make a plan, build a kit, stay informed and get involved.

“Make sure you have a plan for not only yourself but your family, your friends, your business if you have (one) on the coast or any business.”

He says to get involved, help other people prepare, especially older people.

Tim Dudley is the emergency management director for Hillsborough County. He says they can assist people with numerous things like transportation challenges and assistance with elderly people.

“We have what's called Special Needs Shelters for those who may not need to be in the hospital, but may need some level of medical care and may not have family readily available here,” he said.

But he says to only come to the shelter as a last resort.

“We encourage you to have a plan. Move out of the evacuation zone that's called. If we call for an (evacuation in zones) A B, look for family and friends that may be in an evacuation zone C,” Dudley said. “Just to get out of harm's way. We only want you to go tens of miles, not hundreds of miles. But when we say move, we want you to move.”

Dudley says the Bay will be Tampa’s biggest challenge.

“You've seen two extreme photos. You've seen where Bayshore has flooded. And you've also seen where we've had this last storm Idalia, where we were on the weak side of the storm and all the water was sucked out of the bay.”

Dudley said do not walk out to the middle of the Bay if it gets drained.

Recovery is also a big thing the emergency managers think about and prepare for.

Burrell said they’re forming neighborhood groups right now to assist with post-storm cleanup. They don’t want to see people on their roofs or cleaning up their yards. She says leave it to the professionals.

“We do have a lot of injuries after storms because of what people are doing around their house. They're climbing up ladders. They're using chainsaws which is very, very dangerous,” she said. “We have the recovery groups and they're trained to do that.”

She says some people never really use this stuff until after a hurricane, and they might not be trained to do so.

“Don't overextend yourself. Don't do things you don't normally do. Relax,” Burrell said.

Finally, Dudley emphasizes getting your insurance info ready now. He says to make sure you have the proper insurance, whether it's homeowners, renters or life insurance.

“Make sure it has enough coverage. If you haven't, take good pictures. And make sure your insurance policies are readily available at reach. And know what you need to do to file because immediately after impacts, you're going to want to start putting it all back together.”

All managers recommend going to your county website for more information and to stay up-to-date with changes.

For Hillsborough County - https://hcfl.gov/residents/stay-safe

For Pinellas County - https://pinellas.gov/department/emergency-management/

For Hernando County - https://www.hernandocounty.us/departments/departments-a-e/emergency-management

As the executive producer of WUSF's Florida Matters, I aim to create a show and podcast that makes all Floridians feel seen and heard. That's also my assignment as a producer for The Florida Roundup. In any role, my goal is always to amplify the voices often overlooked.
I am the host of WUSF’s weekly public affairs show Florida Matters, where I get to indulge my curiosity in people and explore the endlessly fascinating stories that connect this community.