A Message from Matt Devitt

Reporter: Matt Devitt Writer: WINK News Digital
Published: Updated:

Welcome to the 2023 WINK News Hurricane Guide. Hurricane season is now here, and for the next six months, the WINK Weather Team will constantly monitor for tropical depressions, tropical storms and hurricanes that could be potential threats.

The 2022 Hurricane Season was one we will never forget, as Hurricane Ian made landfall in Southwest Florida as our most devastating storm on record. Initially, the season was off to a slow start, with no storms in August for the first time in 25 years. Just one month later, on Sept. 28, Ian changed all that and rapidly intensified over very warm Gulf waters while approaching Southwest Florida. The hurricane, in a matter of hours, even minutes, changed lives and the place we call home.

Ian had many similarities to Hurricane Charley in 2004, making landfall in the same location, with the same intensity and even at the same time of the day. The biggest difference between the two is that Ian was much larger and slower than Charley, which prolonged the catastrophic effects of the storm. A storm surge of at least 14 feet—the highest ever recorded in Southwest Florida—occurred along Fort Myers Beach, which is why this became the deadliest hurricane in Florida since 1935. Most of Florida’s nearly 150 deaths were seniors who drowned from surge along the coast. The storm was so powerful that it forced surge more than 25 miles up the Caloosahatchee to Olga and the Franklin Lock.

In addition to saltwater flooding from surge, there was also freshwater flooding from up to 27 inches of heavy rain in Charlotte, Sarasota and DeSoto counties. Both the Peace and Myakka Rivers reached historic levels, inundating countless roads and communities nearby. Tornado-like winds over 100 mph were widespread, causing many to be without power for weeks. Large waves, some up to 23 feet, caused severe erosion and destruction of the Fort Myers Beach Pier and Cape Romano Dome Home, along with partial destruction of the Naples Pier. As of March 2023, Ian is responsible for $113 billion in damages, making it the third-costliest hurricane on record behind Katrina (2005) and Harvey (2017).

Now that the storm is gone and we try to get our lives back together again, what can we learn from Ian to better prepare us for future hurricane seasons? Here are my Top 3 Recommendations:

#1 Don’t compare storm experiences from the past to help you prepare for approaching storms. For example, “I was fine during Charley” or “The surge wasn’t that bad where I live during Irma, so it won’t be bad with this hurricane” are both incorrect approaches. Every storm is different, including the impacts they can bring.

#2 Don’t focus solely on the center line of the forecast cone. Some did that during Ian, letting their guard down while thinking the storm was going north. Despite daily adjustments in the track, it’s important to note that Lee County, where the storm eventually made landfall, never left the forecast cone at any point. Anywhere in that cone highlights where the center could go, and impacts could even be felt outside of it. I will be removing the center line of the WINK Forecast Cone starting this hurricane season to reinforce this point with a clearer understanding of a storm’s possible threat.

#3 If told to evacuate because of the potential for life-threatening storm surge, please do so. You don’t have to evacuate across the state, just get to higher ground and away from the Gulf. Never take a chance with your life or the lives of the people (and pets) that you love.

The outlook for the 2023 Hurricane Season includes less of an influence from La Niña than in recent years and potentially more of an influence from El Niño. El Niño, which is warmer than average water temperatures in the Eastern Pacific, has been known to increase wind shear across the Atlantic and lower tropical activity. While that would be a step in the right direction, that doesn’t mean hurricanes can’t still occur. In fact, 1992 was an El Niño year and it still produced a historic storm that our state will always remember: Category 5 Hurricane Andrew. As they found out with Andrew and we found out last year with Ian, “All it takes is one storm” to make it an active season.

Keep this helpful guide with you and remain vigilant during hurricane season. My best advice is to get ready now when the weather is quiet. Don’t wait until a hurricane is on the way to gather supplies and develop a plan for your family.

I’ll be here every step of the way, guiding you through any future storms that decide to come our way, just like last year with Hurricane Ian. Trust WINK, The Weather Authority, to deliver accurate information 24/7 all season long. Let’s have a much quieter and safer 2023!

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