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Hurricane season has come to an end

People clear debris in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in Fort Myers Beach.
Giorgio Viera
AFP via Getty Images
People clear debris in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in Fort Myers Beach, Florida, on Friday.

As of Wednesday, residents along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts can exhale, with the end of the 2022 Hurricane season.

Things were quiet throughout August and into September for the first time in 15 years. Then came Hurricane Ian on September 28 in Lee and Charlotte counties — a Category-4 storm which devastated parts of Southwest Florida and swept across the peninsula, causing $50 billion in damages.

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President Joe Biden and Gov. Ron DeSantis met and toured Sanibel Island, one of the hardest-hit areas. The governor said one of the keys to relief was cutting through the red tape.

“That's from local government, state government, all the way up to the president so we appreciate the team effort,” said DeSantis. “These storms come, they're on the horizon. You kind of project it could be really bad. Oftentimes it doesn't necessarily get to that level. This was the full Monty.”

The president pledged Uncle Sam’s support and assistance in the cleanup and restoration, adding that Ian was more evidence of a larger issue facing the U.S and the globe.

“I've been to a lot of disaster areas in the last six months — fires have burned in the west and the southwest, burned everything right to the ground, and the reservoirs out west are down to almost zero,” the president said. “And I think the one thing that has finally ended is a discussion about whether or not there's climate change. We should do something about it.”

Ian claimed 137 lives in Florida, making it the deadliest hurricane in the state since the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane. Category-1 Hurricane Nicole is blamed for five deaths, as the first November hurricane to land in Florida since record-keeping began in 1853.

“We did have a strong line. We were expecting above average conditions [and] we got a few strong storms,” said Megan Borowski, a meteorologist at the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network – FPREN. “However, there were some micrometeorology things occurring in the eastern Atlantic that actually increased windshield and detracted from tropical developments.”

While Ian and Nicole raged downstate, she said atmospherics enabled the Panhandle to remain unscathed, thanks in part to La Nina in the Pacific.

“Mainly based off of the atmospheric steering a lot of times, subtropical high pressure will help to steer tropical cyclone,” said Borowski. “And this year, it was a little bit further east into the Atlantic. So that kept the steering away from the Gulf of Mexico and from the Panhandle.”

Still to be determined — and perhaps not for a long time — will be how climate change affected the 2022 season. Borowski says it’s too soon to gauge.

“We can't draw any conclusions right now about how climate change may have impacted this particular season,” she said. “But certainly as we go down the line in time, when we look back on this season and previous seasons, will be able to more concretely draw those conclusions.”

Looking back at Ian and Nicole, one lesson to learn, said Borowski, is not to concentrate on the category assigned to a hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Each storm, she adds, has its own particular set of hazards.

“Ian kind of primed the pump, so to speak, by dumping a tremendous amount of rain along the I-4 corridor and it also primed the pump with erosion and river flooding,” Borowski said. “And then when Nicole came on in, that kind of just sent it overboard. And we saw awful beach erosion, roads washed away, and houses falling into the Atlantic.”

Looking ahead, Borowski says FPREN and other forecasting outlets are using the six-month offseason to gear up for the 2023 season that begins June 1. Part of that deals with new technology and forecasting techniques.

“We always go back after the season is over and we look at the forecasts, and cross check them with what actually happens to help better the forecast models, to give us a better output and better idea,” Borowski said. “During the offseason, meteorologists undergo training. We look back at communication techniques. We look back at the science itself.”

Weather and disaster relief experts, such as state emergency manager Kevin Guthrie, are hoping one change could be providing a secondary storm-path cone, focused on storm surge.

“We've got to figure out the storm surge issue and how we communicate storm surge better in the future,” said Guthrie. “Because storm surge warnings were out from the Florida Keys all the way up through Apalachicola Bay. How do we more effectively communicate watches, warnings and evacuations around storm surge?”

As meteorologists prepare for next season, Borowski urges residents along the coast to do the same that it’s never too soon to prepare. And that means reviewing your property and the needs of your family.

“Do you have a lot of trees around your house? Does your roof leak? Do you have low lying areas on your property that could easily flood?" she said. “Make an evacuation plan. The more information that you can gather and the more preparations you can make during the offseason. It makes it easier if you are impacted by a storm.”

June 1 is the traditional beginning of hurricane seasons, but that could be changing. A team at the National Hurricane Center is studying a plan to move the official start of the season up a couple of weeks, to May 15. At this point, no decision has been made for 2023.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.