1. Hurricane

Hurricane 2019: Hernando isn’t preparing for one disaster. It’s getting ready for two.

Hernando’s emergency management director has to get ready for two floods: If the west side of the county floods, then so will the east side.
Flooding affects Tarzan Street in Talisman Estates, an eastern Hernando County neighborhood near Ridge Manor, during Hurricane Irma in 2017. Hurricane Irma caused the Withlacoochee River, which the neighborhood backs up to, to flood the neighborhood. [MEGAN REEVES | Times]
Published Jun. 13

Hernando Emergency Management Director Cecilia Patella doesn’t just have to get her county ready to face one worst-case scenario.

She has to get them ready to face two worst-case scenarios.

Her foremost concern, as of eight months ago, is a Hurricane Michael-type storm coming ashore in western Hernando, striking anywhere from Aripeka to Hernando Beach to Pine Island.

HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at

“When we’re talking about scenarios, obviously that level of damage, for me, would be the worst-case scenario,” she said.

But in Hernando, the effects of such a major storm striking the west side would inevitably be felt on the east side of the county.

That’s because torrential rains and stormwater runoff will feed into the Green Swamp — a 560,000-acre ecosystem that sits in Hernando, Lake, Pasco, Polk and Sumter counties, feeds four rivers and provides much of central Florida’s drinking water.

Hernando Emergency Management Director Cecilia Patella [Times 2017]

And then, days or weeks later, all that water will start to flow into the Withlacoochee River and threaten to flood neighborhoods and areas in eastern Hernando.

“If we’ve had a rainy season and then we get a significant storm that drops a huge amount of rainfall in the Green Swamp, that wave of water will flow north,” Patella said. “Then we anticipate that within 10 to 14 days, the river will start to rise well above its major flood stage — and then we will see significant flooding along the river.”


911 calls from Hurricane Michael paint horrifying picture of what it’s like to not evacuate

What the Panhandle’s top emergency officials learned from Michael

‘We’re not going to give up.’ What a school superintendent learned from Michael.

It happened in 2004, she said, when Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne all impacted Florida.

So how does a county get ready for two natural disasters days apart?

Hernando’s emergency management plan is scalable, Patella said. That means officials can quickly ramp up their response, ordering more evacuations, opening more shelters and bringing in more supplies and help.

It helps that flooding is a slow-motion disaster. That’s how it happened in 2004.

“We had to literally wait until the hurricane winds were over, but we knew we had the luxury of time,” she said.

“Ten days of lead time is a long time to move assets into the area. The river is slowly rising so it gives residents some lead time.”

River residents also know the dangers they face from a major storm or rain event, and they wouldn’t live along the Withlacoochee unless they were prepared to take care of themselves until help arrived.

“They’re savvy,” Patella said. “They know the river. They’re very aware of their environment. I seldom hear from anyone in that area in a panic over the rising river.”

2019 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide

HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at

PREPARE YOUR STUFF: Get your documents and your data ready for a storm

BUILD YOUR KIT: The stuff you’ll need to stay safe — and comfortable — for the storm

PROTECT YOUR PETS: Your pets can’t get ready for a storm. That’s your job

NEED TO KNOW: Click here to find your evacuation zone and shelter

What Michael taught the Panhandle and Tampa Bay

What the Panhandle’s top emergency officials learned from Michael

‘We’re not going to give up.’ What a school superintendent learned from Michael.

What Tampa Bay school leaders fear most from a storm

Tampa Bay’s top cops fear for those who stay behind


  1. Tropical depression 15 has formed in the eastern Atlantic. National Weather Service
    The newly formed system joins a tropical wave off the coast of South America.
  2. Peggy Wood, center, attends a community announcement with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, right, in Mexico Beach in September. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The Wood family presses forward with plans to rebuild the Driftwood Inn amid a changing town.
  3.  Mexico Beach, one year anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Michael. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    One year later, Mexico Beach is still recovering from the Category 5 storm.
  4. Meteorologists are keeping watch on a system in the mid-Atlantic that could develop into a tropical storm sometime in the next two days. A system off the eastern coast of Florida will bring heavy rainfall to the state before moving to the east, north of the Bahamas. National Weather Service
    While the chance of further development is low, the system will bring heavy rains to the state.
  5. The National Hurricane center National Hurricane Service
    The system poses no threat to Florida.
  6. The endangered torreya tree at the Gregory House at Torreya State Park north of Bristol. Special to the Times
    The storm had some unintended — and devastating — consequences for a small but mighty endangered tree.
  7. In this Sept. 16, 2019 photo, Remelda Thomas bows her head in prayer in her home in McLean's Town Cay, Grand Bahamas Island, Bahamas. Thomas said she lost eight family members in the storm. While sleeping one night after the storm the wind was blowing and the tarp over the hole in her roof was snapping and it brought back the fear from Hurricane Dorian. CHRIS DAY  |  AP
    Dorian mustered massive strength over warm waters and lashed the Bahamas for almost 40 hours. The ocean roared ashore and swelled 20 feet high.
  8. Siesta Key Oyster Bar pulled $15,000 off its walls to help aid victims of Hurricane Dorian. Facebook
    Siesta Key Oyster Bar also joined three other Siesta Key Village businesses in raising another $10,000 during a separate fundraiser.
  9. Oct. 2• Hurricane
    Hurricane Lorenzo is expected to begin impacting Ireland in the next 24 hours. Forecasters estimate that the British Isles could see 90 mile-per-hour winds. National Weather Service
    The latest forecast shows strong winds are on the way for the British Isles.
  10. As Hurricane Lorenzo continues to move northeast towards Ireland, two disturbance have surface in the Caribbean. National Weather Service
    The pair have a low chance of further development.