The eastern United States has been in a cycle of increased hurricane activity since 1995, a cycle that could continue another 25 years. But Florida has gone seven years without a direct hit. What does this mean for this upcoming season? We asked Dennis Feltgen, spokesman and meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center.
Will we be lucky again this year?
We're in an active period, so unless there is an El Niño (warm surface water in the eastern Pacific Ocean) that will suppress the hurricanes, we have to assume we'll get hit. We've been in active periods where hurricanes haven't hit landfall at all. You can't predict that, long-range. You have to go into the season thinking this is the year that Florida and Tampa Bay could be impacted.
Florida has not been hit with a hurricane since 2005, since Wilma. We've never gone this long before. I'd like to go for longer but that's not up to me . . . The odds are going to catch up with us. We have to be prepared for the fact . . . Tampa Bay hasn't been impacted with a major hurricane since 1921. Statistically, it's way overdue for a major hurricane, but we don't know if that's going to be 2013, 2015 or later. We have to be prepared that this is the year.
What is your biggest concern going into this season?
We're always concerned with the fact that people along the coast would be in denial. They think if they didn't get hit last year, then they won't get hit this year. People who have been impacted by the fringe of the hurricane think that's what a hurricane is all about. No, not even close.
What else worries you?
They're not just a coastal event; we're also worried about the impact inland. Hurricanes cause a lot of rainfall, and tornadoes spin off of hurricanes as well, which means people inland and in Polk County would need to be prepared.
They need to have a hurricane plan just like folks along the coast. They have the other three hurricane threats to deal with, and that of course is hurricane-force winds, flooding and tornados. Are you in an area that floods? Do you have an evacuation plan? Is your insurance up to date?
What's the key to preparation?
You don't want to have to make decisions about your home, your family and your supplies when the hurricane warning sign is up. By then it's too late. Do you really want to be standing in a line at Home Depot and Publix? No, you're going to want to have all of your supplies ready way before the season starts.
What is the National Hurricane Center doing to raise public awareness?
We work very closely with our media outlets. You have a great group of TV outlets. We continually update our website ( nhc.noaa.gov). We have a social media presence, but it really comes down to personal responsibility. You have to take responsibility for yourself.
What preparations are most neglected by Floridians?
Making sure they have enough insurance. That's always an issue in the state of Florida.
Also, making sure they have plenty of supplies. Remember when the power goes out, you're not going to have refrigeration. You're not going to be able to cook. You're not going to be able to charge your cell phones. You need backups for this and enough food, water and medicine to last seven days. People think they can go a day, but it may be a whole lot longer than that. When you go to the grocery store, there are a lot of 2-for-1 deals out there. Start stocking up now.
People always forget to have cash. When the power goes out, there go the ATMs. You're going to need cash.
Make sure your car is in working order. Never let your gas tank drop below a half a tank in hurricane season.
How did Superstorm Sandy affect preparations?
It was a real wakeup call for folks that were impacted by Sandy, particularly when it comes to storm surge. We haven't seen that kind of surge in generations. It was a real wake-up call of the power of water. It points a real ugly finger at the dangers of storm surge in a hurricane and the real need for preparation.
How can people prepare for storm surge?
Obviously, you would need to get out, and the emergency managers did a great job on that. A great lesson from Sandy is the impact of water and just how powerful it is.
Anything else we should know?
Just prepare, prepare, prepare.