While hurricane prediction forecasters for the 2013 season called for an above-average probability for major storm events last summer, the overall Atlantic hurricane season last year had below-normal activity with 196 official forecast issued.
With that said, don't count on predictions to come true for the 2014 hurricane season. Always prepare for the worst -especially because it only takes one hurricane to make landfall in the Southwest Florida region, specifically Fort Myers Beach, to have a lasting impact upon barrier island residents on this seven-mile, crescent-shape land.
Hurricane season officially begins June 1 and ends Nov. 30. Island residents must heed any warning to any potential impact.
"It's terribly important to be prepared," said FMB Town Manager Don Stilwell. "We know what happened during Hurricane Charley, when people couldn't get back on the island. That's devastating. We need to get people back if at all possible."
Stilwell encourages residents and business personnel to come to Town Hall top get hurricane re-entry passes to expedite re-entry onto Estero Island once a mandatory evacuation order has been lifted. This service is provided to islanders free of charge, however registration and annual renewal is required.
"One of the first things everyone should be doing is worrying about getting their hurricane passes in the event the island does get shutdown," said Stilwell. "That way they can make it back on to take care of their property and animals."
While marine activity in recent years has produced only tropical storms, preparation is still key for Beach residents for any type of storm impact. That means each person should expect the unexpected and ready themselves for possible evacuation, while keeping informed of posed threats by listening/watching to news reports that may directly or indirectly affect you or loved ones.
If a threat in the Gulf is imminent, Beach residents will still be asked or ordered to leave, while other Lee County inlanders may wait until there is a better idea of what the forecast will be.
This re-thinking is due to the National Hurricane Center and National Weather Service's decoupling the storm surge threats from the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale. It also is a direct circumstance of less law enforcement and management resources since the turn in economy.
The focus remains on those areas that are "A" level first. Fort Myers Beach is classified as an "A" level, meaning first to evacuate.
A Category 3 hurricane is now actually a measure of the wind speed of the storm and has nothing to do with what the potential storm surge threat.
Remember the three "p"s in anticipation of a tropical event: plan, prepare and pass it on.
When winds reach a certain level, emergency personnel will not be around to help.
"Our resources are recalled when there are 40 mile-per-hour sustained winds, and we go from limited to virtually no services for the public. When asked to evacuate, I would do that," Lee County Sheriff's Office Captain Matt Powell has pointed out in the past.
Emergency personnel relay three stages for in the event of a hurricane: 1) Pre-storm phase (have fresh gas in generator, collect 3-5 days of food, etc.); 2) Storm phase (shutters up, call EOC, evacuate if needed); and 3) Response phase ("windshield assessment" in damages, reviewing calls, checking the area).
Emergency kit supplies needed include food, water, batteries, flashlights, pocketknife, rope, tape and hand tools.
Important papers should be placed in an emergency file including phone numbers for insurance agents for car, property, etc. and insurance forms for house, automobile and health.
The Town's Emergency Operations Plan is consistent with the National Incident Management System and the Lee County Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan and describes and details actions to be executed following the declaration of an emergency affecting Fort Myers Beach. Go to www.fortmyersbeachfl.gov to view the complete plan.
Town officials are reviewing the plan and plan on outlining it to a more efficient "executive summary" that could be indexed to specific entries.
"Council wants something that is not as cumbersome as what we currently have," said Stilwell. "It's not the kind of document one can go to in a crisis situation."
The entire incorporated area of the Town of Fort Myers Beach is located within an area of Coastal High Hazard as defined in Florida Statutes, Chapter 163.3178. All life and property on
Estero Island is especially vulnerable to destruction by high winds and flooding caused by hurricanes as well as their accompanying tornadoes and heavy rainfall. Large areas of the island are subject to damage from wave action of floodwaters. Life and property may also be endangered by the insufficient precautions of others, when wave action batters structures with unsecured debris and wreckage of destroyed structures.
Hurricane hazards come in many forms, including storm surge, heavy rainfall, inland flooding, high winds, tornadoes, and rip currents.
Since it is a barrier island, the Town is limited by the two exit points for evacuation, necessitating advanced warning. During an emergency, utility services may be disabled, and may continue to be nonfunctional for extended periods; public safety may be impaired through lack of police and fire protection and emergency medical response; downed power lines, gas leaks, and damage to structures can cause safety hazards; and basic necessities such as food, fresh water, and gasoline may be unavailable for extended periods.
Be safe but, more importantly, be prepared before disaster strikes.