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Hurricane Drill Seeks To Prepare Officials & Residents

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

With less than a month before the kickoff to Hurricane Season 2017, the annual exercise to prepare for such an event was held Wednesday morning at the Escambia County Emergency Operations Center.

The “war room” was filled with representatives from various government agencies, along with other organizations charged with helping out in the event of a disaster. The man in charge? Escambia Public Safety Director Mike Weaver.

“City of Pensacola, Town of Century, Escambia County,” said Weaver. “Gulf Power, ECUA, [Pensacola Energy], military, law enforcement, sheriff’s office, Pensacola PD, and then our fire [department].”

The participants were acting from the scenario used for Wednesday’s drills across Florida. A category-4 storm named “Heddison,” which has left major damage in its wake. Something different this time compared to last year’s drill – some of the players are new to the game.

“Positions change at different companies, governmental positions and responders,” Weaver said. “So, each year, everybody has changed, so that gets everybody in together, to learn to work together, who the new faces are before our area is impacted.”

Hurricane predictions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, are expected out on May 25. Earlier this year, Frank Klotzbach and his team at Colorado State University announced their forecast of a below-average season.

“Total of 11 named storms, four hurricanes and two major Category-3, 4, 5 hurricanes on the Safford-Simpson wind scale,” said Klotzbach, courtesy of KRIV-TV in Houston. “[A] normal season is about 12 named storms, six hurricanes and two major.”

One of the major factors Klotzbach and his team study each season is whether there’s going to be an El Nino or a La Nina in the Pacific.

“We may have El Nino developing this summer and fall, that’s warmer than normal waters,’ said Klotzbach. “If it develops it tends to increase upper-level winds into the Caribbean and the Atlantic, tearing the tops off hurricanes as they try to develop.”

Water in the Gulf of Mexico doesn’t play a role, at least seasonally, in the overall scheme of Atlantic hurricane activity, according to Klotzbach.

“I think that’s because Gulf water temperatures every year are plenty warm enough to support major hurricane development,” Klotzbach said. “It’s getting a system into the Gulf that can develop.”

Back at Escambia EOC, Operations Director Mike Weaver says they’ll now go through the data generated by the exercise. As they do that, he has some advice for residents living along the Gulf Coast – especially those facing their first hurricane season.

“They need to go ahead and start orchestrating a plan,” said Weaver. “[It’s} the best time for the family to go ahead and decide [if] they’re going to stay or go.”

If residents decide to try to ride out a hurricane,especially in an evacuation zone, Weaver says they may have to go it alone.

“Definitely re-think it; it’s definitely going to be rough, primitive camping at best,” said Weaver. “Worst-case scenario is when the bad things happen, responders can’t get to you.”

Hurricane seasons come and go. Some are busy, others not so much. But the mantra that stays from year to year is: it only takes one direct hit by a storm to make it a bad season.