The fall is not the time to turn your back on Mother Nature in Southwest Florida. While mid-September is statistically the height of the Atlantic hurricane season, October and November can still bring damaging storms to our area, in fact, October has historically had more tropical weather than any of the other months. Remember, Hurricane Wilma struck in late October 2005, so don’t let your guard down yet.
Due in part to a strong El Niño this year, the 2009 hurricane season has been fairly quiet for us – so far; but the El Niño has its greatest mitigating effect on the Cape Verde and Atlantic storms coming off of Africa. In the fall, storms begin to form again in the western Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. These later season storms pose additional risk to residents in our part of Florida, in the form of less warning time and a greater potential for landfall and a resulting storm surge from the Gulf.
While tropical storms, rather than hurricanes, become more of a possibility at this time of the year, they should not be taken lightly. By definition, tropical storms have winds of less than 74 mph, but they also have several nasty characteristics that can cause big problems for us. First, they are less organized, and the most severe weather can be quite a distance from the center of the storm, and often have tornadic activity and heavy rains associated with this severe weather. They also can develop quickly, making landfall without giving much notice to coastal residents.
That all said, your response and preparedness for these storms should not be all that different than it would be for a hurricane. Keep three to five days worth of supplies on hand and stay tuned to official information and news. While evacuations during these events are generally less extensive, persons who are dependent on electricity for their well-being or those living in fragile housing should still consider evacuation, because these storms still can still result in widespread wind damage and lengthy power outages.
A NOAA weather radio becomes an even more important part of your preparedness kit, because it can give you better warning of an unexpected storm, tornadoes and flooding threats, even when you’re asleep. Tropical Storm Gabrielle gave fewer than 12 hours warning in 2001 – most of it during the night.
Lastly, securing property prone to wind damage, like boats, patio furniture and other loose items, can greatly reduce damage across the community spectrum, including to the environment. Make sure you coordinate with your neighbors, so that their loose items don’t damage your house.
Some trivia: since storm records were first kept starting in 1851, the latest tropical storm in Collier County was on Dec. 1, 1925, with winds of 70 mph, and the earliest was on Feb. 3, 1952, with 50-mph winds. For more information about hurricanes, tropical storms and storm preparedness, visit nch.noaa.gov, or collierem.org.
The Marco Island Civic Association provides this column to keep readers informed about the group. If your club or organization is interested in submitting a column or content, please contact Editor Bill Green at firstname.lastname@example.org.