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Human nature to downplay hurricanes is dangerous, emergency managers warn

A woman in a peach colored suit speaks at a podium labeled Sarasota County, next to an American flag
Kerry Sheridan
Sandra Tapfumaneyi leads Sarasota County's emergency response

They say people have a tendency to base decisions on past experience. But this season is forecast to be far more active than any in recent memory.

It's almost hurricane season, and emergency managers say Floridians should be prepared, but also be ready to change plans on a dime as forecasts can also change quickly.

Hurricane Ian in 2022 was a prime example of a storm shifting its path in the final approach, according to Sarasota County emergency management chief Sandra Tapfumaneyi.

"Hurricane Ian was forecasted to come here just a day or two before it actually made landfall down south," she told a press briefing last week.

"That should be a wake-up call for the residents of Sarasota. That 15 feet of storm surge traveled six to seven miles inland in Lee County."

Getting lucky last time shouldn't change how people think about this season, Tapfumaneyi added.

"We have a tendency as humans to base decisions on what we have seen in the past. And that's a very dangerous philosophy to have when we're talking about hurricanes because every storm is different," Tapfumaneyi said.

That's a particular concern this year, as forecasters are predicting a blockbuster hurricane season, due in part to unusually warm ocean temperatures.

"The impacts we might face with a future storm might look completely different than anything Sarasota or southwest Florida have seen in the past," Tapfumaneyi said.

Estimates for the number of storms large enough to merit their own name range between 23 and 33 this season.

The National Hurricane Center issued its outlook last week, expecting 17 to 25 storms in the Atlantic between early June and Nov. 30, with at least eight of those developing into hurricanes.

That's far above the average 14 storms per season.

Tapfumaneyi urged people to keep their gas tanks at least half full — or electric vehicles fully charged — once hurricane season begins.

And prepare a go-bag with food, water, first aid kits, important documents, supplies for pets and children, and medications.

The Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1.

I cover health and K-12 education – two topics that have overlapped a lot since the pandemic began.