For those unfamiliar with the geography of Florida the forecast concerns may seem to be unusually high. This is not the case. It is not alarm to be prepared. Safety and prudent decision-making should be the #1 priority of every Florida resident. That said, Bryan Norcross has some exceptional insight and advice:
Category 5 Hurricane Irma with 185 mph winds continues its march into the history book. It is the strongest hurricane ever measured in the Atlantic east of the Caribbean Islands. And horribly, the strongest part of the hurricane is on track to pass over the northern Leeward Islands and likely at least the British Virgin Islands. Still, all of the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico will feel very strong winds. On the better-news side, the current best estimate is that the worst of the storm will stay north of Puerto Rico, the D.R., and Haiti.
The Bahamas are in the direct path of Irma, and full hurricane preparations should be underway. The expectation is that Irma will lose some of its extreme strength by the time it gets there late Thursday, though it is still expected to be a fierce, monstrous hurricane.
By Saturday morning, the winds are expected to be increasing on the southeast Florida coast – Miami-Dade, Broward, and the Keys. Based on the current schedule, preparation activities should be finished by that time. There is a little more time for Southwest Florida and areas farther north in Florida.
The expectation continues to be that the center of Irma will reach the Florida Straits south of the Keys over the weekend, slow down, and then turn north. Exactly where that turn will occur and what track north Irma will take is unclear, and will likely be uncertain until we see it happen, likely on Sunday. But we cannot wait to know for sure.
The 5:00 PM National Hurricane Center cone shows a position just south of Key West Sunday afternoon, but there is significant uncertainty in that forecast. The average error of 5-day NHC forecasts is about 240 miles. It is impossible to know at this time whether Irma will track up the east coast, the west coast, or up the middle of Florida.
Given the amount of time it takes to move people to safe locations, decisions to order evacuation of areas that would become dangerous if the hurricane were to take an unfavorable track have to be made well before there is certainty. This situation could be a nightmare scenario where evacuations may be required on both coasts of the state and in the Keys, with everyone trying to head north on I-95, I-75, or the Turnpike. This possibility is extraordinarily concerning.
Many imaginable forecast tracks are also extremely dangerous for the Florida Keys. If Irma tracks anything like it is forecast, life-threatening conditions will be experienced over a significant portion of the Keys. Many people in Key West think they have been through hurricanes, but the last super hard, direct hit was in 1846, so obviously nobody has experience with what a big strong hurricane can do. If there was ever a time to follow the evacuation orders, this is it.
In this morning’s post, I included a list of supplies to buy and steps to take to prepare for a major hurricane, but the most important thing you can do is to evacuate if ordered, and consider going early if you live near the water but the order hasn’t yet been issued. The risk is that you will be caught in rising water, or stranded in your neighborhood or building with no power, no water, and no communications – possibly for many days – if you do not leave. Both circumstances are horrible and life-threatening.
If we Floridians are going to successfully navigate this hurricane, people are going to have to work together and do the right thing. Based on what we know now, this has the possibility of being beyond a worst case because we can’t know which coast will be impacted, so both coasts might have to prepare.
Things were already getting frenetic in Miami today as people were trying to get ahead of the game by getting supplies. There is no reason to wait. Most hurricane food can be used in the course of life, and other supplies will work for season after season.
The best thing that can happen is that you don’t need to use your supplies, or your house or neighborhood doesn’t get flooded so you can easily go back home. It is unlikely that either will be the case for many people, so there is nothing to do but to prepare carefully and fully now.
The threat from spectacularly strong HURRICANE IRMA is increasing as the storm strengthens and grows in size. Hurricane Hunters have now measured 175 mph, Category 5 winds. There has so far been no deviation in the track to lessen the threat to the islands in the short run and the eventual threat to some part or perhaps much of Florida.
This does not mean that Irma will necessarily be a Cat 5 when it gets to the vicinity of Florida, but it could be. In any case, Irma is demanding our full attention.
We have confidence that a large powerful hurricane will move near or across the northern Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, just north of the D.R. and Haiti, through the Bahamas, and then into the waters southeast of the Florida Keys on Saturday. At some point over the weekend, the steering currents are expected to change rather abruptly, causing Irma to slow down and turn to the right in the direction of Florida. Exactly where and when that turn occurs is unknown at this time, but we have confidence that turn will happen.
The best scenario, of course, is that it will happen early in the weekend, and the core of Irma – with likely Cat 4 winds – will stay east of the state and go out to sea. There is also some chance that the mountainous islands in the Caribbean might disrupt the circulation, though no computer forecast shows that happening in a significant way at this time.
On the other hand, many possible tracks bring the worst of a large, powerful hurricane over or near the Keys and up the peninsula over the weekend. The circulation of strong winds is expected to be wide enough that both coasts of the state would be affected, unless that best-case scenario or a track offshore to the east transpires.
Winds too dangerous for putting up shutters or moving boats might start in South Florida as early as Friday evening.
Given the extremely large number of people that would be impacted by any track over the state, early preparation is essential. It will be impossible for everyone who will need supplies to get them at the end of the week.
Attached, once again, is a good shopping list from Brevard County – except that I recommend food and water for AT LEAST SEVEN days and an AM/FM portable radio with plenty of batteries. Also, I suggest only LED flashlights and lanterns with lots of batteries. Though LED lights will last a long time.
Here are a few other tips, which I’ll repeat and add to as we get closer:
1. You can order supplies from Amazon today and have them delivered on Thursday at the latest. Local stores might be out of good LED flashlights and lanterns, for example. Have at least one flashlight for every person in your family, and ideally have a lantern or two for general lighting.
2. Take photos today or tomorrow of every room, every piece of electronics, and everything valuable. Upload the pictures to the cloud – Dropbox, Microsoft Cloud, iCloud, Google Drive, etc. – before the storm.
3. Also take photos of key documents and upload them as well. You can do that today.
4. Save your contacts in your phone to the cloud. If you don’t know how to do that, frame grab your screen or have someone take photos of your contacts with their phone and email or text the pictures back to you to a friend. Don’t take a chance on losing your contacts if something happens to your phone.
5. Secure your photographs and albums in double plastic bags.
6. Plastic bags and duct tape are your friends. You can’t buy to many of them. Put documents in gallons-size (or larger) Ziploc bags. Put larger items in double large trash bags cocooned so the opening of the first bag is in the bottom of the second bag. Put some clothes in plastic bags in case you get a roof leak. Duct tape bags closed. Put valuables on a high shelf in a closet.
7. Think now about where you are going to park your car. A parking garage is ideal. Outside in a low-lying area or under a tree is the worst. Think about all of the cars you’ve seen ruined in storms because people made bad choices about where they parked the car before the storm. When we know the storm track, we’ll have a better idea which side of a building will give the best protection. Next to a building on the downwind side gives you the best chance if you have to leave your car outside.
8. Do your laundry and wash your dishes before the storm.
9. You dishwasher is an excellent “safe” in your house if you need someplace to put valuables. Your washer and dryer can offer good protection as well. These could be good places to put your bagged-up photos, for example.
10. Fill Ziploc bags ¾ full of water and stuff them in your freezer to fill up the space. The less air you have in the freezer, the longer your refrigerator will stay cold. Do NOT turn your refrigerator to any lower setting than normal – that can damage the unit.
11. Choose a friend or relative out of town to be the contact point for your family or group of friends. After a storm, it is always easier to get a call out of the area than within the storm zone. Be sure everybody has the out-of-town number and make a plan to check in ASAP after the storm.
12. If you live in a high rise, be sure you know what the procedures are going to be in the building. Will the building be evacuated? Will the water continue to work? Will elevators work? What is on a generator? If you can stay in the building (if it’s away from the water) find an interior hallway on a low floor where you can set up camp during the storm. It will not be safe to be on a high floor or near windows, even with modern hurricane impact windows. A hallway surrounded by concrete is your best bet.
13. Think about what you will sit on if you are in a hallway or other safe spot for a number of hours – maybe 12 hours or more. Consider comfortable folding chairs. Take food to your safe spot. Have books or other non-electronic amusements, including for the kids.
14. Do NOT count on your cellphone for communications. When Harvey hit Texas as a Cat 4, it knocked out the mobile phone system. In addition, your battery may run down and you may have no ability to charge it. In any case, it’s essential you have a portable AM/FM radio that you can leave on so the entire family can hear what’s going on with the storm.
15. Most importantly, be sure you know a safe place where you and your family can ride out the storm, if it comes. This is the most critical decision you can make today. There almost certainly will be evacuations ordered for parts of Florida. If you live near the water, put together the food, clothes, valuable items, and important papers you’ll take with you NOW. Leave as early as possible. There will be a crush on the road and you may not find a hotel in the entire state of Florida.
We are all hoping that Irma turns early or otherwise weakens or stays away, but the odds don’t favor that at this point. The hurricane is most likely to have some effect on a significant part of the state, and damaging impact on the lives of many people.
Therefore, we are confronted with an undisputable fact: What you do before the storm has everything to do with how you and your family will fare after the wind stops blowing.
Today, you are in control. Take action calmly but resolutely. Don’t set yourself up to be a victim. Your full attention is required immediately.
CTH REMINDER – There is no cause for immediate alarm, and the storm’s path is likely to change and become more certain in the next 36/48 hours. However, most models and forecasters are predicting a sharp turn to the right (North) sometime during the life of this storm; and with that in mind the timing of that turn will be critical for Florida residents.
If the storm does not turn North until later in the week, Irma could move up the East Coast (I-95 area), the center of the state, or the West coast (I-75 area).
South Florida has not had a South to North path hurricane in multiple decades. There were probably less than two million residents in Florida the last time it happened; now there’s approximately 21 million.
For our friends in the Westward Keys and Southern Gulf Side (South West Florida), please pay particular attention to this current storms path. Unlike the Eastern coast of Florida the South West coast (Gulf Side) is primarily made up of recently populated “shallow water” Gulf barrier Islands. A Category 5 storm that skirts the Western coast of Florida, from Ten Thousand Islands Northward to Sarasota, and maintains inflow energy from the Gulf of Mexico, could be a topography changing event.
Repeat: “A topography changing event.”
Shallow Water Coastal Vulnerability
In a scenario where Cat 5 Irma continues West or Northwest (current track), then takes a sharp right turn, Northward up the Southwest coast of Florida – before turning Northeast – the coastal vulnerabilities are almost too staggering to contemplate.
Beginning in the area of Everglades City and Ten Thousand Islands; northward through Marco Island, Naples Beach, Bonita Beach, Fort Myers Beach, Estero Island, Sanibel Island, Captiva Island, Upper Captiva Island, Useppa Island, The Caloosahatchee River inlet, Pine Island, Cape Coral, Bokeelia, Matlacha, Boca Grande as far North as Siesta Key and into the intracoastal waterway would be almost unfathomable in the scale of how the coastal topography would change.
These Islands, while they may not be familiarly referenced as “barrier islands”, simply because decades have past and populations have developed them, are exactly that: “Barrier Islands”. These shallow water gulf areas along the coast have not had severe storm surge disturbances for 60+ years.
The tenuous coastal and barrier island ‘ground‘ is crushed shell and sand, and their entire topography is subject to change as the shallow and severely churned gulf waters carry in sand/silt and excavate the same.
Just like 2004’s Hurricane Charley split an entire island in less than 15 minutes, so too could entire coastal communities be split or covered in sand within a few hours. Bridges rising from mainland on one side could disappear into the new coastal Gulf of Mexico on the other, with the barrier island completely removed. Nature is a powerful force.
If you live in South Florida, please pay attention to Irma’s path. There are millions of people in these coastal communities and only two basic Northern Interstates available for evacuation: I-75 (West Coast) and I-95 (East Coast).
If you live in South Florida West of I-75 or East of I-95, this might be the first storm you should consider *NOT* trying to ride out.
Today, President Donald J. Trump declared that an emergency exists in the State of Florida and ordered Federal assistance to supplement State, tribal, and local response efforts due to the emergency conditions resulting from Hurricane Irma beginning on September 4, 2017, and continuing.
The President’s action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts. This action will help alleviate the hardship and suffering that the emergency may inflict on the local population, and provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives, protect property, and ensure public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in all 67 counties in the State.
Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide, at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency. Debris removal and emergency protective measures, including direct Federal assistance, will be provided at 75 percent Federal funding.
Brock Long, Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security, named Justo Hernández as the Federal Coordinating Officer for Federal recovery operations in the affected areas. –White House–