I grew up in Florida and weathered my share of hurricanes as a child. I remember one time we waded out of my dad's house on Madeira Beach as a storm surge flooded the neighborhood. Hurricanes brought excitement and adventure: We got to stay in a hotel room... and light candles... and eat ice cream!
But in 1992, when Hurricane Andrew turned toward south Florida, I felt concern and fear. I owned a home and a boat. I also worked for a West Palm Beach newspaper at the time, and in the few days before landfall, found myself writing about last-minute hurricane plans for boaters. As winds picked up and bridges shut down, I reported on final preparations and hopes.
Andrew, initially forecast to hit my area, turned left at Dade County and crushed a wide swath of homes and marinas south of Miami. I drove down the following day and saw the devastation.
Even though I now live in the less-hurricane-prone area of south coastal Georgia, images of flattened homes, mangled fiberglass, impaled hulls and grief-stricken families remain fixed in my memory. Needless to say, I take hurricane planning seriously.
As we approach the start of hurricane season, June 1, now is the time to plan and prepare. AccuWeather forecasters (www.accuweather.com) said in mid-March that they expect seven landfalls in 2010; five are predicted to be hurricanes, and two of those may be major. About 15 tropical storms are expected to threaten the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. In a typical season, we see 11 named storms; two to three impact our coasts.
Dr. William Gray, whose hurricane forecasts at the Tropical Meteorology Project (Colorado State University) have gained international attention over the years, issued a December season preview that predicted 11 to 16 named storms, six to eight hurricanes, three to five of which may be major. Gray will announce further updates on April 7, June 2 and Aug. 4. Visit http://hurricane.atmos.colostate.edu/.
Long before hurricanes spiral their way toward land, boat owners need to know what they can legally and practically do with their boats. The best place for a boat is on land far away from winds and surge. But that's only somewhat practical for trailerable boats. A boat owner who stores his vessel at a marina must know the marina's policies.
Among the better long-term sources for hurricane-preparedness is the Boat Owners Association of The United States - BoatUS - which provides free downloadable planning materials including checklists for what to do before and after the storm. Visit www.boatus.com/hurricanes/. You can also download a hurricane manual at the website for the Florida Inland Navigation District, www.aicw.org. Municipalities within hurricane-prone areas also provide guidance that can be specific to a boater's home.
If you don't know where to start, download web materials and talk to marina owners and fellow boaters. The information is readily available. But you have to take the first step..