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Date of Issue: June 10, 2009


Hurricane numbers drop for 2009, some weird tips

“Slightly above average” has dropped to “slightly less active” for the 2009 hurricane season in the Atlantic basin.

Drs. Philip Klotzbach and William Gray are meteorologists with Colorado State University. Gray has been offering predictions on storm numbers for decades.

The latest forecast, issued June 2, indicates the season “will be slightly less active than the average 1950-2000 season,” the pair wrote.

“We estimate that 2009 will have about five hurricanes (average is 5.9), 11 named storms (average is 9.6), 50 named storm days (average is 49.1), 20 hurricane days (average is 24.5), two major Category 3-4-5 hurricanes (average is 2.3) and four major hurricane days (average is 5.0).

“The probability of U.S. major hurricane landfall and major Caribbean hurricane activity is estimated to be slightly below the long-period average.”

Why the change?

Klotzbach and Gray said they expect “weak El Niño conditions by the most active portion of this year’s hurricane season, August through October. If El Niño conditions develop, it would tend to increase the levels of vertical wind shear and decrease the levels of Atlantic hurricane activity. Another reason for our forecast reduction is due to the persistence of anomalously cool sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic.”

El Nino is a weather condition in the Pacific Ocean that tends to diminish the number and intensity of storms in the Atlantic.

Other factors in the diminishment of the Atlantic hurricane activity the pair point to include cooler ocean waters and stronger trade winds.

Call this a wakeup call

“It’s not the despair. I can take the despair. It’s the hope…” — John Cleese, “Fawlty Towers”

There is an urban legend that Manatee and Sarasota counties have been spared the brunt of hurricanes for 100-plus years.

The legend varies from the teller. Indian maidens have been involved, the unrequited love of Spanish explorers and, in their dying breath, they beg the Gods to spare this region from the wrath of deadly storms.

There also is some quasi-scientific data involving water current patterns in the Gulf of Mexico that adds credence on the matter of why storms veer from our shores.

In fact, according to what I’ve pulled together, we’ve had at least seven storms of some intensity or other that have either passed over or so close by to Anna Maria Island since 1870 that it made no difference that the storms eye missed us.

We got slammed, in other words.

The difference in our urban myth is that nothing has happened in most of our memories, so we believe it to be so: We’ve been spared. Just because not many of us remember a thing doesn’t mean that the thing hasn’t happened.

I believe that’s what is called history.

Please, please, prepare now for yet another predictably “slightly less active” hurricane season.

Survey data indicates that those within the reach of any type of storm in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico apparently are woefully unprepared for such an event.

Adding to the dilemma of preparation is the current economic crisis we’re going through. Stocking up on hurricane supplies is taking a back seat to paying the rent or the mortgage or a car payment.

Of course, Islanders are smarter than the average coastal resident, but for the few who are new, here’s my personal hurricane plan. In order are the following:

• Dig out your insurance policy and read it. Read it a couple of times. If you’ve got a question, call your agent for an answer. Beef it up if need be, but make sure you’ve got wind, flood, fire … all the rest. And check all your other insurance policies while you’re at it, then put them into your hurricane box.

• Get as many of those plastic tubs as you think you need to store the stuff you cherish. I like the ones that are carry-able size, not the huge ones that take several people to lug around. Root around and get the family albums and important papers or special books and either put them in the tubs now or have enough plastic crates to hold all the stuff later.

• The smart money lies in taking those tubs and storing them in a high-and-dry location on the mainland. Now.

• Sit everybody in your household down and talk through a hurricane plan. Hey, call your neighbors over, too, and come up with something that works to keep y’all safe if evacuation is ordered and everybody has to scurry away to points unknown. Who’s going where? Exchange phone numbers of people out-of-state with whom you’ll be in contact with — all of you. Cell phone numbers for each. Text message info for each. Once you’ve worked all the details out, write it down and make lots of copies and exchange the information so you can all stay in touch.

• There has been some confusion in the media about for how long one should be prepared to deal on your own with a disaster. The best advice is to aim for the long picture — seven days on your own. One gallon of water, at least, per person, per day. Food. Clothes. Medicine. And don’t forget that some drugs have to be refrigerated to remain effective. Pets and their special needs also are a consideration. Got Spot or Fluffy current rabies shots? You’re going to need that information stuffed in your hurricane kit if you’re going to a shelter.

• As an aside to the above, think about how you’re going to cook for a week or so. Got a charcoal grill? Get three times as many briquettes as you think you’ll need, get one of those really big tubs, and stow them where they’ll remain dry. If you have to evacuate, bring the tub to your friend’s house. You will be thought of as bringing black diamonds come dinnertime.

• And speaking of eating, how are you planning to prepare and serve the food you bring with you if you’ve got to evacuate? Pots, pans, knives, forks, napkins, salt … you get the idea.

• So Hurricane Brillo, as a buddy refers to the big one that we’re destined to undergo one of these days, is threatening the Island. You’ve been ordered to evacuate, and, of course, you do. Walk around the house a few times and imagine what 100 mph winds will do to the property. Trash cans? In the garage, or secured in a carport. Garage? Beef up the big door, which is the most vulnerable part of your house. Shutters. Bracing. Sandbags, or that nifty canned foam insulation stuff that is a mess to clean up afterwards but works wonders to keep water from penetrating your home.

• Storm proof your house both outside and in. Shutters? Check. Garage-door brace? Check. Yard furniture secured? Check. Have you cleaned out your fridge? A lesson learned from New Orleans is that anything left in a closed, humid box for six weeks — or even six days or so — turns into a toxic dump. Empty the fridge and take everything with you.

• Regarding “tool-time,” there are a few items that should be in your vehicle. Those cans of “fix-a-flat” or whatever are invaluable, and more than just one. Newspaper colleagues in Punta Gorda post-Hurricane Charley were going through cases of the stuff a week as they drove through roofing nails strewn everywhere. Buy lots of the stuff, or be ready to be stranded.

• And there is duct tape. I can’t quite come up with a reason to have a roll of the stuff during a hurricane, which I guess means that I should have at least two rolls for dealing with unknown problems.

• Let’s say we’re off the Island for a week or more. There’s no electricity, no TV, no entertainment that we haven’t brought to our shelter. What is that entertainment going to be? I like books, kids like electronic game toys, but they gobble up batteries like kids on candy. It seems to me that the tedium of riding out the post-disaster days is going to be about as disastrous as any storm. Parents will understand this concept.

• And remember that your nifty little battery-operated cable-dependent TV won’t work without cable later this month as the world switches from analogue to digital. Get a radio.

The whole point of this exercise is for you to think a bit about the worst-case scenario in a “storm event.” Think now.

Please think about what coulda/woulda/maybe will happen.

I’ve had to deal with more than my share of the storms that have aimed and missed the Island in recent decades, and even a few that didn’t miss all that much. Survival wasn’t so much an attribute of planning as dumb luck, and that luck — like what Anna Maria Island has gone through in the past 100-plus years — can’t keep on keeping on.

I hope to see you all on the other side of this storm season.

Sandscript factoid

Here’s a tool you need to have in your kit you may not have considered: heavy work boots and gloves.

You get home, half your roof is lying on the yard, and you start the cleanup in your sneakers. First thing that happens is you step on a rusty nail. Or you grab a board and a splinter jabs your hand.

Now you’ve hurt yourself, you’re limping, your hand is bleeding, and you’ve got all that work to do.

Invest in the heavy shoes and gloves.

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