I’ve spent most of the past two days following The Weather Channel and watching the water level in the retention pond behind our home continue to rise with each passing hour.
While full-time Floridians like to joke that hurricane season doesn’t start in our neck of the woods until late July or August, Tropical Storm Debby has made it clear that there’s an exception to every "rule."
If you’ve been following Debby, you know that this storm has confounded both weather experts and computer models. As of this Sunday evening, Debby’s center was located in the Gulf of Mexico about 270 miles from Sarasota. Debby appears to be stationary at this hour and, although it’s "only" a tropical storm with sustained winds of 60 miles per hour, Debby’s caused at least one death (in Lake Placid in Highlands County) and substantial damage throughout the state.
Tropical Storm Debby highlights some very important reminders for ROC managers, board members, and homeowners:
- It’s imperative that we not let our guard down. Last night at this time, the National Hurricane Center’s official storm track had Debby headed west toward Texas. Predicting both track and intensity of tropical storm systems is extremely difficult and complex and conditions (and a storm’s path and intensity) can change drastically in a few hours. There are numerous sites, including the National Hurricane Center’s Tropical Prediction Center and Weather Underground, that can provide current information.
- While Tropical Storms are not as "powerful" as hurricanes, they can still pack quite a punch. We’ve had numerous tornadoes in Florida today, at least one older bridge has been partially washed away, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge was closed for part of the day, and many coastal areas have suffered substantial beach erosion–all of this from a tropical storm well offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.
- It’s also important not to focus solely on a tropical system’s path, or the National Hurricane Center’s "cone". Debby has spun off storms and tornadoes as well as pounding wave action throughout the day which have severely impacted communities throughout Florida–many of which are hundreds of miles away from Debby’s projected track.
- Finally, tropical storms and hurricanes are deadly serious events–not opportunities to appear on television (for example, the "surfers" that choose to take their boards into waters when riptide warnings are issued or the "thrill seekers" that feel the need to drive through flooded streets). When a ROC is threatened by a tropical storm or hurricane, every resident must be prepared to follow the directives of state and local authorities–including a mandatory evacuation order. As I’ve mentioned in other entries, "mandatory" means just that. The failure or refusal to obey a mandatory evacuation order violates state law, and, unless the community’s clubhouse is a certified shelter, a resident cannot and should not simply "camp out" in that clubhouse when the evacuation order is issued.
This is the earliest date that we’ve had a fourth named tropical system in the Atlantic. Whether or not this signals an extremely active hurricane season this year is unclear. What is clear is that knowledge, preparation, and common sense in dealing with tropical storms and hurricanes can help spell the difference for ROC managers, board members, and homeowners.
Let’s hope that Debby is our only tropical "visitor" this season–but let’s be ready just in case!!