Even emergency managers learned from 2004

A record year for Floridians contains many lessons on preparation.

By DICK FLETCHER, Chief Meteorologist, Tampa Bay's 10
Published May 29, 2005

The last hurricane season was one for the record books in Florida with four hurricanes hitting our state. As we prepare for this summer, we need to look back and see what we learned in 2004.

We learned that hurricanes don't always follow the skinny line down the middle of the forecast cone. Storms can turn at the last minute, like Charley did. The storm did hit inside the warned area, but its late movement reminded us that forecasts are not exact and there still is a level of uncertainty.

Despite the wobble of Charley, specialists at the National Hurricane Center set a record for accuracy in 2004. Their two-day forecast error was only about 100 miles on either side of the skinny line.

The No. 1 thing county emergency managers say they learned was that a lot of bay area residents didn't know their evacuation zones. That is the first step in understanding how vulnerable your homes and businesses are to storm surge flooding. You can find your evacuation zone by checking the map in this guide. If you live in a white area, you don't have to evacuate unless you live in a mobile or manufactured home.

We learned that no part of the state is immune to the damage from hurricanes. Inland counties like Polk, Hardee, De Soto and Highlands can be hit almost as hard as coastal areas. During Charley, many people evacuated to the center of the state and found themselves right in the path of the hurricane. Even areas that were spared a direct hit from one of the four storms still had to deal with power outages for days, in some cases weeks.

So everyone needs to be prepared. We need to make our homes self-sufficient with enough food, water, batteries and other necessities for at least four to five days.

It's also time to read your insurance policy. Know what is covered and what is not. What is the deductible? Are there separate deductibles for wind and water damage? It's better to find out now, not after a hurricane strikes.

You can take steps now to help reduce damage to your homes and businesses. This guide provides information for what to do before, during and after the storm.

Residents with special needs should register with their county emergency management officials each year, and the earlier the better so they can make plans to accommodate everyone. It is vital for you to know what items and information you will need to bring with you.

Experts describe the 2004 hurricane season as a "once in a lifetime" experience for Floridians. For the past 10 years, we have been a pattern of more and stronger storms - and forecasters expect that to continue for another 10 to 20 years. While chances of four storms hitting the state in any year are extremely small, it is very possible for one or two storms to threaten us this year.

We have to be ready.