By Bill Weedmark
The National Hurricane Center recently lowered its forecast on the number of hurricanes expected to develop this season, but federal forecasters still warn that this season has a 75 percent chance of above-average hurricane activity. What does this all mean for Flagler?
So far there have only been four tropical storms and no hurricanes this season — the most recent, Tropical Storm Debby is brewing in the Atlantic — but forecasters are warning people in coastal areas, such as St. Augustine, to be prepared.
A recent statement from National Hurricane Center director Max Mayfield cautioned that hurricane season has not yet reached its peak, which runs from the middle of August to the end of October.
The outlook calls for 12-15 named storms and seven to nine hurricanes, with three or four becoming major hurricanes. Original predictions called for 13-16 named storms, eight to 10 hurricanes, with four to six of those becoming major storms. The National Hurricane Center considers any storm Category 3 or higher a major storm.
The revised predictions for the 2006 hurricane season are similar to the initial forecast for the 2005 season, which called for an identical number of named storms and hurricanes, but three to five major hurricanes. The 2005 season ended up being much worse, with records of 28 named storms, 15 hurricanes and seven major hurricanes.
According to Steve Letro, the meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Jacksonville, recent atmospheric changes have led to the revised forecast.
While ocean temperatures are still above-average, one requirement for hurricane development, Letro says that unfavorable wind shear conditions and a more stable tropical atmosphere compared to the 2005 hurricane season are the main reasons for the decrease in forecast numbers.
“The fact is that the atmosphere does, in fact, change with time, and so far some of the conditions which looked so favorable last year and into early 2006 have not held up,” Letro said.
Letro also said that perceptions of hurricane seasons have changed after the 2004 and 2005 seasons. Hurricane activity has been above normal since 1995, with the most hurricane activity on record for 11 years, and many of those seasons did not become active until August and September.
“The bottom line is that any individual’s perception of whether or not a season is ‘busy’ is really going to depend on whether or not you get hit. Last year saw 28 named storms, but we had nowhere near the impact in northeast Florida that we saw in 2004 when there were only about half that many,” Letro said. “Conversely, the 1992 season only saw a total of six named systems, but I think you would have a hard time convincing the folks in Miami that it was a ‘quiet’ season because one of those six was Andrew.”
While St. Augustine has not been directly hit by a hurricane in years, students should still be prepared for the storm season and have plans ready.
Flagler College has a hurricane plan which details evacuation orders and student safety. Depending on a storms intensity and projected path, Flagler College President William T. Abare, Jr. will decide whether to cancel classes and if students should remain on campus or be ordered to evacuate.
The college communicates vital information regarding hurricanes through the Flagler College Hurricane Center at http://hurricane.flagler.edu, as well as other college media sources like WFCF 88.5 FM and college E-mail. If a storm threatens, messages are also posted on the main Flagler number, (904) 829-6481.
Students must check in with the college if they plan to leave the area as a storm approaches, and should also keep their family informed of plans.