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What to know for the 2024 hurricane season, according to the experts

With NOAA predicting above-average hurricane activity this year, a disaster preparedness seminar shares facts on storm hazards and how to survive them.


One of the Tiki huts from the Longboat Key Club lies in pieces on the beach in front of the club on Sept. 29, 2022, after Hurricane Ian.
One of the Tiki huts from the Longboat Key Club lies in pieces on the beach in front of the club on Sept. 29, 2022, after Hurricane Ian.
Photo by Kat Wingert
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With the threat of an active hurricane season on the horizon, more than 300 people packed The Longboat Key Club Harbourside Ballroom for Longboat Key’s 22nd Annual Disaster Preparedness Seminar. 

It was the largest crowd ever drawn by the seminar, held on June 5, just four days after the official start of hurricane season on June 1. 

Though the threat of hurricanes looms, the seminar speakers assured guests that preparedness is key, and now is the time to begin having those conversations. 


Increased threat

First up was Brian LaMarre, the meteorologist-in-charge of the National Weather Service for the Tampa Bay Area. LaMarre is also the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Gulf of Mexico Regional Collaboration Team Lead. 

LaMarre presented a variety of facts and figures, most of which related to the idea that the intensity and frequency of major storms are increasing. He reiterated that the 2024 hurricane season is predicted to be an active one. 

“Yes, it's going to be a hyperactive season. The conditions are there,” LaMarre said. “The water in the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico is actually much warmer than it should be this time of year.” 

Some of the large crowd stayed around for the raffle of several emergency preparedness kits.
Photo by Carter Weinhofer

This has to do with the climate entering a La Nina season, coming out of an El Nino event. With warmer water temperatures and less wind shear in the Atlantic, LaMarre said there’s an 85% chance that this year’s season will be above normal. 

A “normal” season is similar to 2023, according to LaMarre. Last season, there were 20 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes. 

The 2024 forecast by NOAA predicts 17-25 named storms, 8-13 hurricanes and 4-7 major hurricanes. 

He also said that there were 18 weather- and climate-related disasters that caused at least $1 billion of damage in 2022. In 2023, that number was 28. 

That goes along with another key part of LaMarre’s speech: a tropical storm or hurricane doesn’t have to make landfall in your area to cause significant damage. 

Storm surge, he said, is one of the largest causes of that damage. 

Many low-lying streets, like Marbury Street, flooded heavily during Hurricane Idalia, causing some underground transformers to fail.
Image courtesy of Cort LaMee

“Water is the No. 1 killer when it comes to hurricanes and tropical storms,” LaMarre said.

With these impacts in mind, LaMarre also shed light on how many people lose their lives after a storm, in what are called indirect fatalities. That includes things like carbon monoxide poisoning from mistakenly putting generators inside or medical issues like heart attacks. 

One challenge LaMarre said exists is low lead times, meaning that there’s a short amount of time from when a hurricane develops, or intensifies, to when it makes landfall. 

The average time for a storm to become a hurricane is 50 hours before landfall, according to LaMarre. 

There’s also the danger that any small shift in the hurricane can greatly impact its path. 

“Any little shift — 5, 10, 15, 20 miles — means a world of difference when it comes to impacts,” LaMarre said. 

With that in mind, LaMarre said that no tropical storm or hurricane should be considered weak. That term shouldn't be used at all when talking about these types of storms, he said. 

It’s important, then, to heed the warnings given by local and county officials. 

“They don’t do it to scare us, they do it to save our lives,” LaMarre said about evacuation orders. 

With proper preparation and evacuation, LaMarre said, “We can survive a hurricane. Anyone can.”


Plans in place

Emergency Management Chief of Sarasota County Sandra Tapfumaneyi said she prefers hurricanes to tornadoes. Coming from the Midwest where tornadoes can appear from thin air, she said at least people have a fair warning about hurricanes. 

Tapfumaneyi’s main message was about how the county operates in the event of a hurricane, and what residents should do to stay prepared. 

She echoed LaMarre’s sentiment that storm surge is a particularly dangerous threat, especially for areas like Longboat Key. 

Tapfumaneyi gave her eyewitness account of the devastation in parts of Fort Myers and Sanibel Island. 

“We had boats where cars should have been and cars where boats should have been,” Tapfumaneyi said.

After the storm passed, the bridges to Pine Island and Sanibel Island were inoperable. Tapfumaneyi said helicopters were needed to get people out of the islands — those who decided to ride out the storm and not evacuate. 

That brought Tapfumaneyi to her main point: Do not make decisions based on experiences with past storms. Just because the Sarasota area fared well — comparatively — in storms like Idalia and Ian doesn’t mean the next one to come through will be the same. 

“That is a really dangerous mentality to have,” Tapfumaneyi said.

Damages on Longboat Key after Hurricane Ian.
File photo

Tapfumaneyi also stressed the importance of speaking with one voice. Though Longboat Key is split into Manatee and Sarasota Counties, the entire island follows Sarasota County’s lead. 

All of Longboat Key is in Evac Level A — the first to evacuate. 

According to Tapfumaneyi, the emergency management team is eliminating the evacuation terms “mandatory” or “voluntary” this year to reduce confusion. Now, it’ll just be “evacuate.” 

Now is the time to get a plan in place, Tapfumaneyi said. That means talking with family and friends, getting preparedness kits ready and knowing which hotel or storm shelter you go to. 


Coming back

After evacuating from a hurricane, there’s one question usually on residents’ minds: “When can we come back?”

Longboat Key Deputy Police Chief Frank Rubino explained that the town operates on a tier system. 

Once a storm’s winds reach 45 miles per hour, the order is given for the remaining town employees to evacuate. The last ones on the island will be police, fire rescue and the town manager. 

After the storm passes, a small first-in team of select Public Works employees and public safety officers will head to the island. This team evaluates the island's condition and, if necessary, clears the roads enough for cars to get through. 

Then comes Tiers 1 through 3. First will be the first responders and essential town personnel, then essential business owners followed by all residents. 

When returning, Rubino said bringing a driver’s license, identification card or utility bill to prove residency is important. 

 

author

Carter Weinhofer

Carter Weinhofer is the Longboat Key news reporter for the Observer. Originally from a small town in Pennsylvania, he moved to St. Petersburg to attend Eckerd College until graduating in 2023. During his entire undergraduate career, he worked at the student newspaper, The Current, holding positions from science reporter to editor-in-chief.

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