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Hurricanes: 20% Don’t Prepare, 24% Don’t Evacuate

A survey by AAA asked Floridians how they prepare for the hurricane season, and one in five said they simply ignore evacuation warnings.

MIAMI – A recent hurricane prep survey by AAA revealed how Floridians plan – or don’t plan – for deadly storms.

The annual survey shows that 20% of those asked said they do nothing at all to prepare for hurricane season. AAA conducted the survey, which queried 400 residents ranging in age from 18 to over 65, in late April.

As for how they react to evacuation warnings, 24% said they simply ignore them. Of those who actually heed them, 56% say the hurricane needs to be at least Category 3 storm, with wind speeds reaching 111–129 mph, to drive them from their homes. About 10% said that the only way they’d leave is if the storm is a Category 5 storm, with wind speeds of 157 mph or greater.

The 2023 Atlantic hurricane season is expected to be “near normal” said the National Hurricane Center director Michael Brennan in a news conference on Wednesday. “That means that there are going to be hurricanes. There’s nothing good about a near normal hurricane season … [that means] 5 to 9 hurricanes,” he said.

Last year’s Hurricane Ian sent 15 feet of storm surge into parts of Florida’ west coast, killing 66 people, and in April of this year, a sudden storm dumped 26 inches of rain on Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, causing severe flooding in various areas of Fort Lauderdale. When asked if those events persuade anyone who did not already have flood insurance to buy or consider it, half of the Floridians said no, and 25% said yes.

AAA noted that homeowner’s insurance does not cover flood damage, and that flood insurance is a separate policy. They also suggested that people store insurance and flood policy numbers, as well as their insurance providers contact information on their phones.

The AAA findings about evacuation and flooding stand in stark contrast to warnings from the NHC and the Federal Emergency Management Association.

“The hazards of the storm are what kill people,” said Brennan. “It’s storm surge, rainfall flooding, wind, tornadoes, rip currents. Ninety percent of the fatalities in hurricanes and tropical storms in the last … 60 years come from water in some way, shape or form.

He explained that storm surge watches and warnings are the most dire warning the NHC can issue, and that they represent life-threatening inundation. “Just because you’ve lived somewhere your entire life and you haven’t seen storm surge or flooding affect your area doesn’t mean it can’t happen,” he said.

Evacuation can seem like a drastic measure, but Brennan noted that it doesn’t mean you have to travel far. “You don’t have to drive out-of-state to escape the dangers of storm surge, you just have to drive somewhere safe outside of that storm surge evacuation zone. It might only be five or 10 miles – to get inland to a shelter, to a friend’s or loved one’s home that’s safe.”

As for how this 2023 season is shaping up, there’s been a lot of talk about a potential El Niño in the Pacific which would, in theory, push Atlantic hurricanes to the north.

Brennan cautioned against letting your guard down. “There’s uncertainty in how the El Niño is going to evolve,” he said. “And there are other factors in the Atlantic Basin that would suggest a busy year – very warm sea surface temperatures … an African monsoon that’s more active … these forces are going to fight it out in the course of this hurricane season, and we don’t know how it’s going to play out … you have to prepare as if you’re going to be affected.”

Deanne Criswell of FEMA, also at the news conference, implored people to plan. “Know what evacuation zone you live in, and know what you’re going to do in case you’re asked to evacuate,” she said.

She also emphasized that storms have been intensifying quickly.

“Know how you’re going to get information. These storms are developing fast. They’re intensifying more rapidly than they ever have in the past. You can download the FEMA app, or you can go to the NOAA website, but know how you’re going to get lifesaving information so you can take action when time is going to be your most important commodity,” she said.

© 2023 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.