Irma: Remain Vigilant & Prepare, Don't Panic

Sep 5, 2017

John Dosh: "Right now the present official forecast doesn't show much impact for us up to the end of the forecast period, which is typically five days, and looking at the information the hurricane center is putting out in long term modeling, it is looking like it should continue the trend of moving up through the peninsula of Florida and providing very little impact for the panhandle other than some gusty, notherly winds. So basically, at this point, we are just monitoring and trying to prepare for any Floridians who are fleeing from the peninsula who we might be able to help."

Sandra Averhart: "Of course we can't discount the fact that being five days out anything could happen, so we still need to be ready."

JD: "Absolutely. Forecasting beyond five days gets a little sketchy so, as you mentioned there, we should always be prepared for any changes in forecast. We are monitoring it very, very closely, pretty much all day long and should anything change we will certainly switch gears and respond appropriately."

SA: "And just so that our listeners understand the timing of things given that we are more than five days out from the current forecast there is still time for us to be getting ourselves together and if we do get any impacts it wouldn't be till the start of next week."

JD: "That's correct, if you follow the present forecast it's not actually getting to the Florida Straits, around the keys, until Sunday. Saturday night/Sunday morning so we've still got  a couple of days until it reaches that area and then there's more days between us and Key West so there's still time if there is a forecast change there is still time to make adjustments but right now we just encourage everyone to just, first, don't panic and second, make sure that you've got everything together that you need to have to prepare yourself and your family should something change."

SA: "Something else I wanted to talk about, JD, is you say don't put too much focus or emphasis on wind speed or category because we are all talking about Cat-5 right now- what else should we be looking at with a storm such as this?"

JD: "Well, certainly with recent past when we saw what happened with hurricane Harvey in Texas, it was a very slow moving storm and it actually stalled over the Houston area and it pumped a huge amount of water, moisture, over that area. It's what caused all the flooding and that's what can typically occur in a hurricane situation, hurricanes can dump huge amounts of rainfall. One of the things you want to look at is, how fast is the storm moving? Typically if the storm is moving eight, 10, 12, 14 miles per hour it's moving fast enough that we're not going to see the huge amount of flooding like we saw in Houston. There's, each storm is different, each storm has different characteristics, they approach the coast at a different angle, there's so many variables there. The best thing I can tell folks to do is pay attention to the local media and the local officials and listen and heed to whatever they are telling you, whatever their warnings are."

SA: "All right, and I understand that maybe you've gotten calls and questions about this-- what does it mean, JD, for Florida, the whole state to be under a state of emergency?"

JD: "Basically, that's an administrative thing, for the most part. What it does, is it allows the state and the local agencies to be able to do things as far as it lifts restrictions, for example, of truck drivers driving on the interstate, there's only so many hours they can drive and they can only be over weight by so much and there's a lot of lifting of restrictions with moving commodities back and forth to exchange moving personnel and equipment over state lines, working with state and Federal partners, just a lot of things administratively, that a state of emergency puts in place and allows to occur."

SA: "All right, so what should we, as residents of the Florida panhandle, of northwest Florida, what should we be doing right about now? -- and we do have time to do it!"

JD: "Right, and we do have time, I would hope everyone is prepared and ready to go. If you haven't checked your supply kit or you don't have your disaster plan ready to go, now's a good time to get that done and there is some time left. There's been a run on bottled water and stuff like that at the grocery stores and I'm sure that those items will be restocked but that does take time. I would like to mention, I know we've become such a bottle dependent society but the water coming out of the tap is still potable and you can drink it!"

SA: "So if you have containers you can stock up."

JD: "Yes, if you have containers, it can be milk jugs or bottled water you've already consumed, you can fill it back up with tap water and put it in the refrigerator. That's still good, potable water."

SA: "And there are many more good tips, of course, for preparing yourself, such as planning for those with special needs, taking photos of your important documents, and you can get those on your website, right?"

JD: "Right. We have a disaster guide on our website, in PDF form, that people can download or look at, that takes you through each of those steps, that guides you through the process and kind of gives them some suggestions on what they need to do to better prepare themselves and their family."

From Escambia County:

Hurricane Irma is now a very dangerous Category 5 storm. What does it all mean for Escambia County and Northwest Florida? According to the National Hurricane Center, the chance of direct impacts from Hurricane Irma to the Florida Keys and the Florida Peninsula is increasing, with a projected impact of late this week or this weekend. IF the storm does track in our direction, any impacts would most likely be felt sometime the week of Sept. 10. 

As frustrating and stressful as it may be, the bottom line today is - We don’t know. The storm is too far out from our area to accurately predict where it will make landfall, as there is no reliable way to forecast potential impacts to an area that is more than about five days away from a storm's location. Escambia County Emergency Management is closely monitoring this storm and is ready to take action as needed. 

The best thing you can do is to prepare and be informed. Even if we aren't impacted by Irma, your preparations won't be a waste, as we haven't yet reached the height of hurricane season. You'll be ready for the next storm.

Every storm is different: Don’t focus on solely on the wind speed or category

Every storm is different, even if it is the same category. Categories only measure wind speed and not storm surge, so it doesn’t tell the whole story. While wind can be very destructive, storm surge is often the killer (think "run from water, hide from wind). A lower category storm can have much more deadly storm surge than a Category 3, it just depends on that particular system. Watch this short video to learn more.

So what can you do now? Know your evacuation zone, it's A-E (no longer 1-5). Look it up now here if you don't know it . And most importantly, don't rely on previous storm experience. Just because you weathered the last storm, doesn’t mean you will weather this one - each storm is different! You must listen to emergency management officials for what actions to take to keep your family safe.

What does Florida’s State of Emergency mean?

On Monday, Sept. 4 Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency in all 67 counties of Florida. This does not mean that all 67 counties will see an impact. However, by proactively signing this order, the governor gives local, state and federal governments the ability to more easily work together with some of the normal restrictions lifted when directly related to preparation and response to Hurricane Irma. Click here for the latest actions by the state. If the county is threatened,  Escambia County will also issue a local state of emergency for the same reason. This is common disaster preparation practice.

What to do now

Review or make a family plan. This includes:

  • Know where you will go. If you live in an evacuation zone, know where you will go and how you will get there. Will you go to a friend or relative’s home, a hotel, or as a last resort, a public shelter? It is always easier to go tens of miles, not hundreds. Find a list of shelters, including special needs and pet-friendly here
  • Have a communication plan. Plan now how you will contact one another and where you will meet.
  • Plan for those with special needs. Make arrangements in advance to accommodate those in your family with special needs like the elderly, children and pets. Always have at least an extra 3-10 days stock of medical supplies, medication and any other special items you may need.
  • Understand Watch vs. Warning, the hurricane cone and what steps you need to take when. Learn more by clicking here.
  • Take photos of important documents and your valuables. Save these to a secure cloud site, thumb drive or keep on your mobile device. 

Get a Kit - Your disaster kit should have at least three days of nonperishable food and three gallons of water for each person and pet in your home, along with other supplies. Click here to see our latest disaster guide shopping list.

Stay Informed - A tropical system can develop very quickly. Be sure you take time every day to monitor the local media. Escambia County also has several tools available for our residents. Learn more here. Monitor local media and legitimate online and social media sources like Escambia County Emergency Management, US National Weather Service Mobile, NOAA NWS National Hurricane Center and Florida SERT.  

Prep your yard - As we are entering the height of hurricane season, it is also recommended that residents take a few minutes to inspect their home and yard. Check for, fix or remove loose items on your home and sheds. Clear loose and clogged rain gutters and down spouts. Trim trees and shrubs around your home.