It was 2005 when Florida was last hit by a hurricane. In fact 2005 was an Atlantic hurricane season for the record books when a total of thirty (30) tropical cyclones were generated throughout the Atlantic basin (See map of tropical cyclone tracks in 2005, below).
In 2005 Florida got hit by four named storms, Dennis, Katrina, Tammy and Wilma. But it has been mostly quiet since then, to the point that close to 4.0 million residents of the Sunshine State may have never experienced the impact of a hurricane except on TV.
All of this changed a couple of weeks ago when a tropical wave emerged from Equatorial Africa and started moving westward along ‘hurricane alley’ , to then move close to the major Antilles islands of Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and Cuba before continuing west into the southern Gulf of Mexico. On Wednesday 31 August the system reached tropical storm strength and was christened HERMINE, the 8th named tropical cyclone of the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season.
HERMINE turned toward the north and started aiming for the Florida Gulf coast, generating copious rain from southern Florida up to the Tampa-St. Pete region and inland areas. On Thursday 1 September HERMINE gradually got stronger and better organized, continuing to generate a deluge and violent thunderstorms along the length of the state while pointing at the Big Bend area of Florida’s gulf coast.
HERMINE became a hurricane by mid-afternoon on Thursday 1 September and continued moving toward the northern Florida coast, where it made landfall in the early morning hours (around 1:30 A.M.) this Friday 2 September 2016 in the Apalachee Bay area south-southwest of Tallahassee, the state capital.
The storm has weakened to tropical storm strength as it moves through southern Georgia and aims for the Carolinas and points beyond while generating large amounts of rain over a large region from southern Florida to South Carolina and beyond.
From early reports, it is clear that this tropical cyclone, which in times past would have been categorized as “just a category 1 storm” by some TV newscaster, has been a large, wet and rather dangerous storm affecting millions of residents in at least five or six states. It goes to show, every hurricane must be taken seriously and considered life-threatening. HERMINE is not done yet, we will have to wait until it traverses the southeastern seaboard states and eventually emerges back over the ocean and dissipates while pulling away from the U.S.A. before we assess the actual toll of its passage.
As we deal with HERMINE’s impact, we must remain alert and not lose sight of the tropics in the Atlantic and elsewhere. For example, the ‘tropical wave assembly line’ in Equatorial Africa and ‘hurricane alley’, closer to us, are populated by numerous cells of disturbed weather and thunderstorms, which are seeds for potential cyclonic activity in the near term and beyond.
Over in the Central Pacific, the state of Hawaii has just had the impact of Hurricane MADELINE (now downgraded to tropical depression) while it braces for the expected impact of Hurricane LESTER fast approaching from the east. It looking at satellite imagery over the past few days as MADELINE approached Hawaii it was clear the high-topped volcanoes on the big island acted as a shield obstructing its progress and disrupting its structure. We will have to wait and see what target is found by LESTER over this weekend. Meanwhile, looking toward the eastern Pacific ocean we can see numerous tropical waves and cells of stormy weather over northern South America and the waters off the coast of Panama, Central America and Southern Mexico, which may fuel potential cyclonic development in coming days.
Doing a 180 and looking at the opposite end of the Pacific, actually the northwest Pacific, we Hurricane NAMTHEUM impacting Southern Japan. Currently the worst consequences are on the Kyushu Islands and the region where Nagasaki and Hiroshima are located. NAMTHEUM is moving generally north by northwest while generating plenty of rain in Japan.
Worrisome as these impacts and ensuing damage and danger to life are, I would like to close this by stating that we must also view them as opportunities. Opportunities to assess damage, to evaluate building performance, to determine causality, and to draw invaluable lessons regarding the resiliency of buildings, infrastructure and entire communities. This is the time when we can gain empirical knowledge regarding the factors that have contributed to damage, and the measures that were effective in mitigating the impact of these hurricanes.
Remain alert. Be prepared. MITIGATE!