© 2023 | WUWF Public Media
11000 University Parkway
Pensacola, FL 32514
850 474-2787
NPR for Florida's Great Northwest
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Emergency managers are preaching hurricane prep as the 2023 season begins

AP File Photo- Aaron Berg fills up a gas can and his portable generator Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017.
David J. Phillip
AP File Photo- Aaron Berg fills up a gas can and his portable generator Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017.

"The first 72 are on you."

It’s a ubiquitous catch phrase that we hear at the beginning of every hurricane season. But recent massive storms that have hit Florida have emergency personnel updating that time frame.

One example is Hurricane Michael, a category 5 storm that just missed the Pensacola area in 2018.

“That was a devastating storm. And it took longer than 72 hours for resources to get into that community," said Travis Tompkins, Escambia County emergency manager.

“Now, we’re better prepared here in Escambia County," said Tompkins. “But we want to make sure that we plan for a catastrophic event here. So (when) we plan for a category 5 hurricane, we would want to make sure that our citizens had enough food and water per individual for at least a week on hand.”

Tompkins says emergency management is using social media as well as tradition outlets to urge residents to be prepared for the storm season.

“We live in Florida, we live on the Gulf Coast, it’s just a matter of when and not if we’re going to get hit by a storm," he said. "So knowing that, remembering that, talking to your neighbors — especially new neighbors from out of state that maybe have never been through a hurricane before. We want to make sure that we are communicating that message of preparedness because we are going to get hit at some point in time.”

When it comes to predicting just how busy a season it is going to be, forecasters have been looking at a lot of conflicting signals.

“When we are developing seasonal forecasts we look at global climate signals that influence ingredients for tropical systems,” said Megan Borowski, a meteorologist with the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network.

“Sea surface temperatures continue to be warm, and that supports tropical development," said Borowski. "But at the same time we are transitioning from a La Nina into an El Nino and El Nino in the Pacific tends to influence winds in the Atlantic such that they inhibit tropical organization. So right now, we’ve got a factor present to help with tropical cyclone organization and one that could hurt it. Overall, forecasters are saying they will effectively cancel each other out and lead to a near normal season in terms of storm frequency.”

FPREN offers a free app called Florida Storms that sends out weather alerts and warnings for the entire state. That’s something that emergency managers say is vital to preparing for and surviving a storm.

People should also have a place to go if there is an evacuation order.

“You don’t have to evacuate hundreds of miles. Maybe just tens of miles to stay with family or friends,” said Tompkins, who also points out that while the county will open storm shelters for residents who do not feel safe riding out a storm at home, staying at a shelter should not be at the top of your list.

“(A storm shelter) is not a pleasant place,” said Tompkins. “There are no cots. There’s water, there’s going to be snacks, but there are no amenities. It is a place, simply, to get out of the storm. We have them, and of course we are going to open them, but make that your last resort.”

For residents looking to stock up on emergency supplies, the first of two 2023 Florida Disaster Preparedness Sales Tax Holidays is on now through June 9. The second will be held Aug. 26 through Sept. 8.

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.