Emergency Managers Reflect On Quiet 2015 Hurricane Season

Dec 2, 2015

Credit NOAA

The 2015 Atlantic Hurricane season has come to a close. The six-month period wrapped up on Monday, November 30.

As expected, it was a relatively quiet year.

In line with forecasts projecting a slightly below average season, there were 11 named storms, with four of those becoming hurricanes.  

Florida made it through the season without a storm making landfall in the state, but there were a couple of close calls.

“If it weren’t for Tropical Storm Erika’s subtle and unexpected shift to the left in late August, the storm could have ended Florida’s longest running streak without a hurricane,” said meteorologist Jeff Huffman, with the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network (FPREN). “Hurricane Joaquin in early October will also go down as a challenging storm to forecasters, at one point venturing hundreds of miles off course.”

Thankfully, both missed the U.S. and the unfavorable El Nino conditions played a role.

“Outside of the two early season tropical storms, Ana and Bill, nearly every cyclone was no match for the hostile upper-level wind currents moving across Mexico from the unusually warm waters of the Pacific,” Huffman said.

‘Fortunate, blessed, and grateful’ are some of the words used by emergency managers from across Northwest Florida, when asked to comment on the end of this year’s hurricane season.

“For the most part, Florida made it through this year unscathed,” said John Dosh, emergency manager for Escambia County, acknowledging further that the state has been hurricane-free for the past decade, which is a record.

“Ten years flies fast. But, yes, it’s been 10 years since we’ve had an impact from a hurricane in the state of Florida and that’s good news,” Dosh said.

There have been a few close calls over the past decade, but no direct hits on the state since 2005. Locally, that included Hurricane Dennis; and before that Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

While officials are grateful to have gone this long without a hurricane hitting the state, there is concern about complacency setting in.

“A lot of times because it’s so quiet, they have a tendency to become complacent and not listen to the warnings and not listen to the fact that we’re telling them that they need to have a disaster plan for their family,” said Okaloosa County Emergency Management Director Randy McDaniel, noting that residents are likely to lose their sense of urgency, which is needed to motivate readiness.

Getting the word out is essential.

Brad Baker, emergency management director for Santa Rosa, says their challenge is to find interesting and unique ways to actually get the public to listen and prepare.

“Our message will continue to go out,” said Baker, pointing out that the county prints disaster guides that are available in print and on line.

“We’ve kind of gotten into the social media network, so we try to push things out that way and do some preparedness challenges throughout the year as hurricane season approaches, and that was a pretty good success we felt like.”

Additionally, each county holds a community-wide preparedness expo each year and emergency management officials take part in other community events.

More and more, their message is year round readiness; not just for hurricanes, but for any disaster.

Escambia’s John Dosh says that means we shouldn’t look past the upcoming winter months, when El Nino is expected to continue to be a factor, but not in a good way.

For hurricanes, it provides a pretty good protective dome,” said Dosh.  “But, in the winter time, it also can provide an enhancement for some of those thunderstorms that come through ahead of the cold fronts. And, we can see severe weather.”

Each county’s emergency management team will have plenty to do to maintain a level of readiness for disaster response over the winter and spring, with an eye on preparedness for next year’s hurricane season.

Okaloosa’s McDaniel says the off season - if you can call it that - is actually when they’re busiest.

He says they’ve already started to look at an upgrade to our web EOC system, which is the data system that’s used to manage disaster operations. Okaloosa County is also planning an upgrade to their satellite communications and radio systems. And, they’ve already started planning the county’s hurricane exercise for 2016.

The goal is to maintain and even improve readiness for next hurricane season, starting June 1, 2016, because there are no guarantees that Florida’s record streak without a hurricane will continue.